Have you ever been listening to Catholic Answers or a similar sort of show and when the topic of the abuses after Vatican II comes up, the host attempts to smooth over the problems of dissent and abuse by putting the Council in some kind of quasi-historical context with the statement, "Yes, but you must remember, there is always this type of confusion after an Ecumenical Council. It is quite normal." I myself used to use this line a lot, but I will not attempt to explain away the abuses consequent to Vatican II using this line anymore, because it is simply false.
Well, no, it is not completely false, but it is misleading, because there is more than one type of confusion. Yes, many Councils have been followed by periods of confusion and dissent, but the confusion and dissent after Vatican II is substantially different from that which followed the other Councils.
I have been doing a lot of study of the Council of Trent and the period of the Catholic Reformation, both prior to and after Trent and have come to the realization that V2 is unique. Taking Trent as our example (but applying this to any other council pre-V2 council, like Lateran IV or Florence-Ferrara), we see that prior to the Council, morals and discipline were lax. The Council cracked down on these deviations and tightened up discipline. Several reform movements popped up, and monasteries and convents after the Council of Trent were much more faithful to their Rules and to tradition than they had been previously. Thus, the Council was an agent for reform, which meant tightening up discipline and returning to the strictness of the Rule.
Now, if we contrast this with Vatican II, we see that before Vatican II (though not so much leading up to it), discipline was tight. The Council attempted to reform the Church by loosening discipline, and thus deviating from what the Church had always done. The Council was an agent of laxity. Let me ask you this one question: when in the history of the Church had anything ever been reformed by a loosening of discipline? Perhaps when they went to private confession, but that wasn't really a reform as much as a simple pragmatic decision (ie., not meant to redress any abuses, as far as I know). But when have laxity, corruption, infidelity to the rules and canons of the Church ever been redressed by loosening our standards? Never, until Vatican II. People can't keep the Eucharistic fast? Then shorten it. People get more divorces? Then give more annulments. When the Council was called, most bishops wondered why, since everything seemed okay in the Church. The trend of lowering the bar (and eventually of legalizing abuses) was started at Vatican II and has continued throughout the JPII years, so much so that people now act as if it is tyrannical for the Pope to attempt to exert any discipline at all!
So, we have our first reason for why Vatican II was different from all preceeding Councils:
Previous Councils addressed abuses by tightening discipline; Vatican II produced abuses by loosening it.
Now what about this issue of "confusion is normal after a Council?" Was there confusion after previous Councils? You bet! Look at the confusion and strife after some of the early ones, like Nicea, Chalcedon and Ephesus. However, don't be duped into thinking that what we have today is the same type of discord today that we had then. Then, it was heretics and dissenters who rejected the authoritive proclamations of the Councils or rejected their binding discipline. These heretics rejected the teachings of the Councils and went into schism, like the Nestorians. Today, it is confusion and abuse fostered by those claiming to act in the name of the Council that plagues us, and the dissent comes not from people who condemn the Council but from those who love it the most! So, here is our second reason Vatican II is different:
Confusion after previous Councils was the result of dissenters acting against the authority of the Council for the purpose maintaining condemned propositions, while todays confusion stems from the supporters of the Council attempting to implement it, and the greatest dissenters are those who love the Council the most.
Who ever heard of dissent and abuse being caused by trying to implement a Council? The Arians disagreed violently with the rulings of Nicea, but it was their striving against the Church and the Council that caused the ecclesiastical upheavals of the 4th century; it sure wasn't St. Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nyssa doing it! There was must resistance to the Catholic Reformation when St. Teresa of Avila tried to restore order to the Carmelites, but the rage and dissent came from the lax and was directed against the reform. Can you imagine St. Teresa attempting to implement Trent by loosening discipline and allowing all sorts of abuses and experimentations in the name of Trent? Of course not! That would be mad! Yet that is what we have today.
I suppose some might whine about "extreme Traditionalists" causing dissent from the Church, but I must point out two things (1) the "dissent" and confusion caused by trads is infintesimal compared to that brought on by NO related abuses, and (2) when extreme trads do dissent, they at least have the courtesy to go into schism! Seriously! At least Lucian Pulvermacher (Pius XIII) realizes he is out of communion with Rome and admits it, unlike persons like Nancy Pelosi or Fr. Raymond Brown.
So, while we do have confusion after all Councils, we must realize that the nature of the confusion and dissent we see today is much different than that which we experienced in previous centuries. Why does it matter? Because if the confusion is of a different order, then the tactic of just waiting for a few decades until things "settle themselves out" will not work. The problem is internal to the Church itself, not external, like the Arians or the Nestorians. We have to actively promote true reform, which is a tightening of discipline, before things will be solved, and it must start with us. And solved these problems must be, for it is vain to think that time will magically make things smooth themselves out.
Related post: Semantic of Reform (January 2008)