Traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops of his ultra-conservative Saint Pius X fraternity without a papal mandate Thursday in a move that automatically excommunicated all five from the Roman Catholic Church.

The consecration, carried out in defiance of orders from Pope John Paul II, took place before a crowd of 8,000 in a tent erected near the rebel archbishop's seminary.Lefebvre asked an assisting priest in Latin whether he had an "apostolic mandate" to carry out the ceremony. "Habemus," replied the assistant, meaning, "We have." "We have this mandate because the church at this present time is in the grip of modernism."

All four, together with Lefebvre himself, are automatically excommunicated according to the text of a Vatican "monitum" published the week before, and the consecration caused the first schism in the Catholic Church for a century.

Lefebvre went ahead with plans to ordain the bishops Thursday, ignoring a final appeal from the Roman Catholic pontiff not "to create a dangerous situation of schism" within the church.

Shortly after the unauthorized consecration, chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls confirmed the validity of the formal warning the Holy See sent to Lefebvre June 17. It had warned Lefebvre and the others involved would be automatically excommunicated if the unauthorized act took place.

The spokesman also confirmed the action marked the first schism, or split, in the Roman Catholic Church in 115 years.

Lefebvre, a French prelate who has refused to recognize the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, declared in an open letter to his bishops that "the throne of Peter and the posts of authority in Rome (are) occupied by the anti-Christ."