Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo apparently consecrated four men as bishops on Sunday.
In so doing, as Ed Peters points out,
So did any of the men he ordained if they were still in communion with the Church.
As tragic as that situation is, I fear that an even greater tragedy may be about to unfold.
Since the debacle following Vatican II, the Holy See has been terrified of a major schism occurring that would involve modernist dissidents. For that to take place, a number of conditions would need to exist:
1) There would need to be a large number of laity willing to go along with the schism.
2) There would need to be a large number of priests available.
3) There would need to be bishops available.
4) There would need to be infrastructure available (churches, financing, etc.)
Thus far the right combination of factors has not combined to create a major modernist schism (in the proper sense of the term). There are always lots of tiny little schisms occurring--even personal ones (i.e., individual people going into schism)--but the largest we have had since the Council was that of the traditionalist dissidents in the Lefebvrist movement. The number of traditionalist dissidents, however, pales in comparison to the number of modernist dissidents. There are far more laity, priests, and even bishops with modernist than with traditionalist tendencies.
As painful as the Lefebvrist schism has been, the potential for a major schism on the part of modernists is thus far more frightening to Rome.
Thus far it hasn't happened, and my guess is that one of the major reasons is the non-fulfillment of condition 4 above. I think a lot of individuals don't want to face the financial and logistical hardship of trying to set up a major modernist dissident church. They're too comfortable where they are and are content to serve out their time spreading dissent in their already secure positions of influence. Why should a modernist priest leave the financially secure and respectable position and brave the rigors of an insecure startup venture?
If you want to know part of the reason that the Holy See has been so soft on individuals with this tendency, the desire to avoid a schism is a big part of it. If the people in question are made too uncomfortable then they might decide that pulling up stakes would be worth it, so Rome has cut them substantial slack (far more than in the old days) in hope that the problem can be solved on a generational basis by cooking the frog of dissent slowly, gently reigning them in in a step-wise manner and waiting for the current group to pass from the scene.
Thus we've had incremental improvements, like the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to promote authentic Catholic teaching (instead of doing something like the anti-modernist measures popes took in the early 20th century) or revising the GIRM and insisting on new, better translations of the liturgy (instead of just jumping back to the old order of Mass).
But the situation may not last, and what Milingo just did may have made it much, much worse.
At least two of the conditions needed for a major modernist schism are now concretely fulfilled. There are thousands of former priests who have left the priesthood to get "married" (in fact, they are not married due to the impediment of holy orders, but they have discounted this fact), and by apparently elevating some of these men to the episcopate, there are now bishops who are not just sympathetic to this movement but who are part of it and who are not tied to the existing episcopal structure in the Catholic Church. (I.e., they are not occupying positions that Rome appointed them to and which they have reasons to want to retain.)
These men could turn around and start ordaining their own priests--and I assume that this was the purpose of elevating them to the episcopate since they could already perform all the other sacraments--and they could draw upon the pool of modernist ex-priests and, one way or the other, have a large number of clergy for their movement in fairly short order.
The question would then turn to consideration of condition 1: How many laity would be willing to go along with them?
There certainly are a large number of laity who have modernist inclinations, though a lot of these are non-churchgoers. (When you hear reports that frighteningly high numbers of Catholics hold heterodox views, those numbers generally do not distinguish between cultural Catholics and those who actively practice their faith. Regular churchgoers, while they have suffered under decades of heterodox preaching and religious education, are still far more orthodox than the non-churchgoers are.) Non-churchgoers aren't likely to start going to the local breakaway church just because it has a married priest saying Mass. A few will, but most are too comfortable where they are in bed or watching their TV sets (or both) on Sunday morning.
The number who would go, however, is not inconsiderable. It would still be a smallish minority of Catholics, but enough to produce a larger schism than the SSPX and similar groups have.
If the schismatic bishops can get the infrastructure they need.
Right now the only people who would go to their services are the hardcore dissidents, and while there are plenty of them, in order to have a major schism you really need parishes all over the place. "Location! Location! Location!" as they say. The schism would be able to attract far more of the faithful to it if there were dissident parishes all over the place that looked at least somewhat like Catholic churches and held themselves out as such.
It thus seems to me that the major barrier is thus still the financial/logistical one, but the potential for a larger-than-Lefebvre schism of a modernist dissident type exists, and what Archbishop Milingo has just done has made the situation an order of magnitude worse.
As you might guess, I think that this is a situation that clearly calls for prayer.
I also think that Rome should give serious consideration to establishing the consecration of a bishop without papal mandate as of itself a schismatic act. Thus far it has not done so. (The reason Lefebvre went into schism was that he consecrated bishops not just without a papal mandate but against papal mandate.) The way the law is written right now, one could be consecrated a bishop without papal mandate and still remain a Catholic, though one would be subject to the censure of excommunication. But having rogue bishops who are still in some sense Catholic will gravely harm the pastoral good of the faithful, and it strikes me that Rome may need to make it clear that no such bishops are in any sense Catholic so that the faithful will not be confused. To do that, Rome should consider revising or authentically interpreting the law in such a way that any unmandated episcopal consecration is itself schismatic.