There's the tendency in any conservative group to compare the present to the "good old days." We're sorted into groups based on what we think the "good old days" were. Neoconservatives get wistful about the 1950's. Back then, the Church was respected! Back then, the Mass was in Latin! Back then, all the priests were Irish!
Back then was also when many Catholics thought their duty ended with Mass attendance and a nice tithe in the collection basket. When the going got tough, they were gone. Yes, there were more Catholics then, but if they had had real faith, they wouldn't have packed up and left the second the Church clarified its position on birth control. Not to mention that the fifties and sixties were when all the sex abuse took place that is coming to light now. Are the fifties-fans saying that sex abuse is okay as long as we don't know about it?
Not to bash the fifties; I'm sure in many ways the fifties were quite nice. I also believe that the 2010's are quite nice in their way too.
More radical conservatives harken back, not to the fifties, but to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Council of Trent is where it's at. Whatever happened to the good old days when the Pope wore a triple tiara and owned a big chunk of Italy? When just about everyone was Catholic and heretics were burned at the stake? These people literally sigh for the Spanish Inquisition.
Personally, I think the Renaissance was a low point for the Church. I'm not a history buff, but you don't have to be to know about popes fathering children, making those children cardinals, and selling offices in the Church. And as for the burning of heretics, it shocks and offends me that anyone would defend this and call themselves Catholic. Heretics were executed for mainly political reasons, and most frequently by the laity, not the hierarchy. Religion was an excuse to these very unreligious men to allow them to do away with their enemies and appear holy at the same time. Executing heretics purely for religious reasons is manifestly immoral, and was condemned by saints like Augustine and John Chrysostom. Vatican II gets a lot of criticism from conservatives, but the fact is, its declaration of religious freedom was completely in accord with Scripture and the early Church, and it's a Good Thing. God does not force our belief, so man has no right to. God wants us to come to him in total freedom. A forced conversion would be meaningless; the execution of a heretic would likely send him to hell. What a horrible thing to do.
In any event, we don't have to defend the deeds of popes and bishops. They could be horrible people and do horrible things. Acknowledging that they were horrible doesn't make us bad Catholics; it's just the automatic response of a well-formed conscience. The only guarantee we have from Christ is that the Church will not teach false doctrine -- not that all the popes would be saints. Obviously, they haven't been. To claim otherwise is to open the Church to ridicule.
I am tired of hearing about how great things were when the Church had tons of political power and worldly respect. Political power corrupts the Church so easily. When power is to be had within the Church, offices within the Church draw ambitious men, not holy men. When the world respects the Church, it is because the Church is failing to challenge it. I am glad that Paul VI had his triple tiara auctioned off to benefit the poor. I don't miss the Papal States; I think it's easier for the Pope to be believed and respected when he is not also the temporal head of a nation.
There was a time when a man could become a priest out of ambition, to rise in social class and the respect in others, and perhaps to make a bit of money. Nowadays to be a priest is to be disdained by a large portion of society; to work six days a week and sometimes the seventh; to have to live on a small stipend; to be required to rush out to sickbeds at a moment's notice; to be required to hear the confession of anyone who asks, at any time; and, as a reward, be mocked and called a pedophile by people who don't even know him. No one would do this except out of great love for Christ.
The world we live in is flawed in many ways, and the zeitgeist is not much in step with the beliefs of the Church. But it does respect charity, humility, and poverty. The only way we will win hearts in the present age is by exemplifying these virtues, not by striving to return to a time when we possessed temporal power and respect. To most conservatives, the present age is a desert. But it is in the desert that the Israelites were purified, that Christ was tempted, and that our Church is slowly being renewed.
So, I am a conservative Catholic, if by "conservative" is meant that I accept all the teachings of the Church and acknowledge them as unchanging. But I'm not conservative in the sense of wanting to preserve the trappings of the "old days," in the sense of power, worldly respect, and wealth. The "old days" have passed away, but our Church is always new. It is never "in step with the times," because the world is never in step with the Church. But it is always the preacher of truth and the bride of Christ. I wouldn't have it any other way.