"We're just doing the same thing the Church has always done."
You hear this mantra spoken often and without qualification among Traditional Catholics, and it's a very attractive idea. I understand why it works so well. It's not really true, though.
What the Church has always done is have problems with heresy. You might even say that what the Church has always done is have problems, period. There has never been a golden age of Catholicism where everything was perfect and everyone was saint; not in the Middle Ages, not in the 1950s, not ever. And the way that the Church has dealt with problems is in her own way, on her own time.
What heretics have always done, incidentally, is to say, "I don't like what the Church is doing, so I'm breaking off in order to save my soul, because you're clearly corrupt over there and you're not fixing it right now. I have the truth in my camp." And then they've proceded to split a million different ways and have a million problems with extremism and fanaticism.
I can't say who is a heretic and who isn't, but...or perhaps I should say because...the Church has never required individuals to be theologians and to figure every last little detail and every last little problem out on their own. In fact, our Faith tells us to be like little children. That's not an excuse to be completely ignorant or careless with our souls, but it is a gentle warning against the mentality that you can't get to heaven unless you read the right encyclicals or books written by people who already agree with you or St. Robert Bellarmine. God isn't playing gotcha. He's not playing a giant joke on everyone who doesn't go to the Latin Mass.
I asked my best friend, a sedevacantist, if she believes that everyone who goes to a Novus Ordo Mass is a heretic. She said no, because most people who call themselves Catholic are acting in good faith and don't know that the Pope is a heretic. "But that's not how it works," I said. "The people who followed Martin Luther were heretics, and still are, and we don't give them a free pass because they might have been acting in good faith. What you're basically saying is that the Church is in pieces. There's a piece over here who have the truth and go to the Latin Mass, and there's a piece over there who are following a heretical pope and don't know any better. If you believe the Church is One, that's impossible." Because she learned all the same things I did about the Four Marks and invincible ignorance and what heresy really is, she didn't have an answer.
Another friend, a convert who attends the SSPX, once casually threw out a remark in conversation about how mainstream Catholicism is "a completely different religion." She would die rather than call herself a sedevacantist, but she doesn't seem to realize that she believes the exact same thing, as does anyone who creates a dividing line in their mind between the "real" Catholics and all those other ones who don't know what's what.
"But what about women priests? What about priests saying that stuff isn't sinful when it is? What about liturgical abuse or this or that or the other? Isn't all that heresy?" Sure, I guess. I was raised trad; I don't mind calling sin by its real name. But who invented the idea that if one member of the Faith falls into error, the rest of the visible structure of the Church and its hierarchy gets contaminated along with them? And that all that can be done is give it up as a bad job and start over? That's not what the Church has always done. It's not what the Church has ever done. There is nothing even slightly traditional about it.
I'm aware that Tradition is gaining a lot of ground. It has made a huge leap in popularity in the past ten years from what I can see, particularly among young people. I don't have an opinion on it except that I'm too burnt out to care very much, which is a little sad because there was a time in my life when I would have been thrilled. I'm aware that there are advocates for Traditionalism who don't create a dividing line in their minds, but I wonder sometimes if they know how strong and pervasive the "us and them" mentality really is. I hope they know what they're dealing with, because it's probably not what they're anticipating.
Thank goodness it's not my problem to solve. I can't say who is a "real" Catholic and who isn't, and I would be a pretty big busybody if I tried. The Church will deal with it in her own way, on her own time, just like she always has.