Sure they were considered heretics, but were they as heretical as the church claimed? Jehovah Witnesses believe Jesus came as a man, but was yet a god, and was crucified as does the church, and yet they are hated by the catholic faithful.
They denied the Crucifixion and Resurrection, that would be enough in and of itself for the Catholics Church to consider them heretics.
Here we have a group (Cathar) that alledgedly denies the human Jesus as well as the crucifixion which is the crux of orthodox christianty, yet they are welcomed and protected by the catholic populace and the areas nobility.
The Cathars were very outspoken in their denunciations of the Church's power and greed, as were many southern Catholics who considered the ecclesiastical authorities to be corrupt. I wouldn't read too much into the situation beyond "common cause" - the Cathars didn't appear to be hurting anyone and were the focus of the Church's ire; a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
It would also seem to me, because of this support which very seldom wavered that the church would attempt to paint a picture of a faith that should be hated by the average catholic, but again, it was not, at least by those catholics who knew it well. Any time an army seeks to invade it first attempts to garner as much local support as possible.
First, you overlook the fact that the average Catholic in that time and place had major issues of their own with the Church's authority structure. Second, you assume that Cathar beliefs were all out there on the table for Catholics to judge and render acceptable, rather than revealed incrementally after the acceptance of Cathar sacraments. Most Cathar credenti
still attended mass and received the Eucharist as they always had, something the perfecti
would not have done, nor I would imagine, anyone who hoped to receive the Consolamentum. Clearly there was a division between what the elect knew and believed, and what the masses knew and believed.
In Beziers the roman catholic population was given a chance to leave, but instead stayed within the city in support of their Cathar friends, and of course "familys".
To have left would have meant surrendering their city to the northern knights and forces. There was a war on, you know. While it's nice to think that the Catholics of Beziers consciously preferred to stand behind their Cathar neighbors and chose death over freedom, that's a rather revisionist conclusion. As rebels against royal and ecclesiastical authority, they were the "enemy" as much as the Cathars were and there was no reason for them to expect mercy outside their walls.
The last major influence on the evolution of Catharism was the Bogomils. Wasn't it a Bogomil Bishop who first established Cathar Bishoprics?
Yes, of course.