Steven Riddle was playing around with the notion of "conservative Catholic" in an email, and it's something I hadn't really given much thought before now. To call a Catholic conservative by his stand on controversial issues seems inadequate. What is the conservative trying to conserve? Obviously the answer is Tradition, capital "T", those truths that the gospel and the Magisterium attest to.
Perhaps a way to see it is that a conservative thinks the way to conserve Tradition (while being flexible on traditions) is to preserve the hierarchical nature of the church. The liberal wants a flatter, less hierarchical Church - more of a democracy. But a democracy within the Church would favor a disconnect between faith and reason since the masses are more faithful than reasoning (although, come to think of it, there's a premium on both). To take one example, the discarding of the prohibition against contraception would pluck at the marriage between faith and reason since it seems well-nigh unreasonable to see homosexual sex as wrong if contraception is fine - openness to life is the basis for both contra-contraception and contra-gay sex.
The more important reason to be against a democratically-modeled Church is that Christ set up a hierarchical Church. He chose twelve apostles and gave three of them - Peter, James and John - special prominence and additional instruction. And, of course, he singled one of them out to "strengthen his brethern" and conferred upon him the Keys.
Are conservative Catholics consistent in their conservatism? Obviously not, but then humans are not consistent about anything.