I recently had a conversation with a priest who was asserting that Vatican II was a very necessary council and was very timely. I asked him why, and he said that the 1950's was no golden era for the Church in America; if things had been so good then and Catholics were so intelligent, why did everything go wrong in the 1960's? He was essentially saying the abuses and mass confusion that crept in after Vatican II happened because the American people were not well enough catechised in the 1950's to understand how to truly implement the documents of Vatican II (this is the same line the bishop's take with papal statements: you all are too stupid to understand these for yourselves; you need us to interpret them for you). If only the American laity had been intelligent enough to comprehend the grand vision of John XXIII, then everything would have went down a lot smoothly.
It was an interesting supposition. So, who is to blame for the gross abuses after Vatican II? (By the way, we are discussing here only the abuses, not the problems of the VII rites and documents themselves) Well, let's break it down Aristotelian style: (1) The Efficient Cause of the abuses were the confusing guidelines introduced by the bishops and the periti in the wake of the Council (2) The Formal Cause was the modernist doctrines that were infesting the theology of the Church in the first half of the twentieth century (3) The Final Cause was clearly the democratization of the Church and the rupture with Church Tradition.
The last question we have is "What was the material cause?" Who is to blame for actually allowing the abuses to take place? Since the Church is made up of people, we would have to say that the Material Cause is the people of the Church who actually instituted and performed the abuses; but which people? This priest in the discussion asserted that it was the laity who were so poorly catechized that they were unable to attain to the lofty vision proposed by Vatican II. Thus, the abuses are the fault of the stupid laity who misunderstood the Council. Is this a proper understanding of how the abuses crept in?
My answer is that the Material Cause is the priests and bishops who got on board with the "spirit of Vatican II" after the Council. If there was a problem with the laity in the 1950's, it was not that they were too poorly catechized but that they were catechized too well, especially in matters of obedience. For centuries, the Catholic faithful were taught the virtue of obedience to ecclesiastical superiors. It was drummed into their head (ever since the Reformation especially) that Father knows best and that obedience is due to the bishop in all things. Thus, when the time of the reforms came, the faithful (never dreaming that their pastors might be making a grave prudential error) followed their pastors into the land of abuse without so much as a thought. They were led by misguided shepherds and they, because of their obedience and docility (virtues, mind you!) to Church authority went wherever Father Get-With-It said they needed to be going. Thus, they reluctantly but obediently sat by while their altars were destroyed and while the music of Palestrina was replaced with the insipid guitar Masses of Marty Haugen.
It is always a virtue to obey an ecclesiastical superior in a prudential manner, even if their judgment may be wrong (so long as it does not lead you to commit sin, of course). The laity cannot be blamed for obeying their pastors; that is what the laity are supposed to do. But it is always a sin for a pastor or shepherd to deliberately lead his people astray. Furthermore, it is an even graver sin when the pastor exploits the faithful's sense of obedience to authority in order to compel their being led astray. The pastors gave the children a scoprion instead of a fish; this is the opposite of what a good pastor is supposed to do. They have the greater sin that whatever culpability an "ignorant laity" bear.
Therefore, the fault of the implementation of abuses certainly rests not with the laity who docily went along with what Father said, but with Father who got up there and told them that these reforms were going to "bring the Church into the 20th century", that they had to get on board with "the spirit of the Council", that fixed high altars were "medieval", that religious ought to discard their habits in order to "be more accessible." It is these who are the Material Cause of the abuses. If the American laity did have a problem, it was that they were too obedient.