The Council of Trent played an important part in determining the outcome of the Counter-Reformation. Along with the part played by the Jesuits and certain individuals, the Council of Trent was a central feature of the Counter-Reformation. But whether Trent represented a positive move by the Catholic Church remains contentious.
Any long term change in the Catholic Church depended on the attitude of the pope in power at one particular time. If there was no desire for change, then there would be no change! Julius III (1550 to 1555) showed little interest in reform. There were those popes who were the opposite and were truly interested in moving forward the Catholic Church such as Sixtus V (1585 to 1590).
The Council of Trent was called by Paul Ill who was pope from 1534 to 1549 and it first sat in December 1545. It was finally disbanded in 1563 but though it would appear to have a life span of 18 years, it was only engaged in talks for four and a half years. Most of the popes at this time did not want to lose power and “they did not feel any enthusiasm for the abolition of abuses which were lucrative for the Papacy.” (Cowie)
The pope did not attend the meetings of the Council and he took no formal part in it. But his legates ensured that the pope’s views would always be put forward and this meant that there was no danger in the revival of conciliarism (the Council being superior to the pope).
700 bishops could have attended the Council but to start with only 31 turned up along with 50 theologians. By 1563, a total of 270 bishops attended and the vast majority of them were Italian which was a great bonus for the pope as they were under his control and it was the pope who effectively controlled promotion to cardinal etc. and these men would not be seen in public doing anything other than what the pope wanted. The bishops also insisted that they vote as individuals rather than as a block-country vote and as there were 187 Italian bishops, 32 Spanish, 28 French and 2 German the Italians vastly outnumbered the other three countries put together! As such what was to be passed at Trent was what the pope accepted as being acceptable to him.
The Council had been called to examine doctrine and reform. Charles V had wanted abuses looked at first in an attempt to please the Protestants and hopefully tempt them back to the church. Once they were back they could look at doctrine. Paul III did not want this as reforms could financially damage him and concessions could diminish his authority. The result was that two separate sections dealt with reform and doctrine simultaneously.