Roman Catholic bishops are urging supporters of excommunicated traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to reaffirm their loyalty to the pope and to remain united with the church.
On Thursday in Econe, Switzerland, Lefebvre defied the Vatican and consecrated four bishops of his St. Pius X Fraternity, declaring that the church had become corrupted with modernism.The Vatican denounced the rebel prelate for provoking the first schism in 118 years and declared Lefebvre and the bishops expelled from the church.
The Vatican was to announce its position on the priests and lay supporters of Lefebvre later Friday, said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro.
Navarro has estimated Lefebvre's supporters at 80,000 to 100,000. But other Vatican officials say around half a million people turn to his priests for various church functions, and Lefebvre says he has millions of sympathizers.
"Those who are sympathetic to Archbishop Lefebvre and may have found it almost impossible to accept the renewal of the church life endorsed by the Second Vatican Council are now faced with a painful choice," said Cardinal Basil Hume, the archbishop of Westminister.
"I would urge them to reaffirm their loyalty to the successor of St. Peter and to remain within the unity of the Catholic Church," he said. "To continue in support of the archbishop and to worship with the fraternity of St. Pius X is to leave the Catholic Church."
Vatican officials were visibly angered by the consecrations. A concert scheduled Thursday evening at the Vatican was canceled to express "deep pain" over the schism.
Lefebvre rejected a last-minute appeal by Pope John Paul II before elevating the bishops. Less than two hours later, the Vatican said the five had excommunicated themselves by defying papal authority.
Lefebvre's act provoked the first major split in the church since the Old Catholics broke with the Vatican after the First Vatican Council proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870.
The Vatican identified those excommunicated as Lefebvre and the four bishops: Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta.
Reports from Econe said Brazilian prelate Antonio de Castro Mayer, bishop of Campos, assisted at the rites and also faced automatic excommunication. But Navarro said the Vatican was awaiting clarification on his role in the ceremony.
Lefebvre, an 82-year-old Frenchman, called the sanctions "null and void" and told his supporters not to pay any attention to them. He said canon law permits his actions "in a state of emergency."