Without a doubt, the Church will survive as she always has. But how did the Church survive? Where? She survived because there were places that the Catholic faith was well-known, well-lived, well-loved. They didn't need the pope on speed dial, even if they needed him at times.
Here's my take on the Catholic focus on the pope.
It's because he's the locus of orthodoxy.
For the past several decades, the episcopacy in the West has been rather lukewarm on doctrinal matters, to say the least.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had what you might call an "orthodoxy agenda".
Their concerns were those of Catholics upset at the conscientious dissent of the faithful and especially the clergy.
Twenty years ago, I did not look to my bishop for any guidance. On anything. My hunch is that this was the case for most Magisterial Catholics in North America.
I think the episcopacy is getting better but it's still rather tepid.
So the popes have become the source of spiritual nourishment. Not the bishops, the popes.
And Pope Francis has disrupted that somewhat. He doesn't have an orthodoxy agenda. He's still plenty nourishing. But his nourishment is the veggies of day-to-day spirituality, not the doctrinal meat of Pope Benedict.
Where does a Catholic go to get fed in this Church?
I've complained about the culture of "documents". I'm all for reading. But I think at times that documents have replaced the personal. I think that when Christ founded the Church, I don't think he meant for guidelines and press releases to replace the personal wisdom of the bishop. Sometimes even when bishops do communicate their wisdom, their thoughts are pretty bland and completely disconnected from Catholic Tradition.
If bishops were more in tune to Tradition, if they spoke up for the faith, if they communicated on a regular basis (hello bloggnig!) -- and I mean them, not some intern-- that would help take some of the focus on the Pope.