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The Roman Catholic Church derives much of its claim to legitimacy from the teaching of "apostolic succession". Other churches also believe that their priests derive their authority in an unbroken chain of succession. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges this of some other churches, accepting that the Eastern Orthodox priests and bishops have apostolic succession. Is this true? And which other churches would have their claims to apostolic succession recognized by the Roman Catholic Church?

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4 Answers 4

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Apostolic succession has two meanings. In one sense it means having preserved the deposit of faith from the Apostles. In this sense the pre-conciliar Catholic Church taught that it alone has succession. In the other sense of the term, it can mean having a valid holy orders (ie. priests and bishops)

Pope Leo XIII's Bull Apostolicae Curae declared the Anglican orders invalid because the sacramental form was changed in such a way to render them invalid. There's the "Old Catholic" (they reject Vatican I) line which may be valid. I think this is in dispute. The Orthodox line is considered valid because they didn't change the sacramental form of consecration of Bishops. Of course, Vatican II made the same changes to the Latin Rite form of consecration as the Anglicans did, so the [Vatican II orders are invalid] ([Vatican II adherents will dispute this][2], obviously). That's why traditionalists find Eastern Rite priests or priests ordained along the Thuc or Lefebvre lines.

Some further information is available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episcopi_vagantes

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+1 This answers the question well - the other two answers address "who is in communion with the Pope?" Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches aren't in the communion, but their apostolic succession is recognised by Catholic Church. –  Pavel Nov 18 '12 at 14:57
Just as a historical note, Pope Pius XII declared in his Apostolic Constitution [Sacramentum Ordinis][1] [1]papalencyclicals.net/Pius12/P12SACRAO.HTM –  AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 20 '14 at 6:37
Sorry, didn't finish my thought. Paul VI changed the rite of episcopal ordination in 1968 (ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/P6ORDIN.HTM), taking the formula from a third-century text. The intention was to bring the formula closer to the one used in Easter Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic) episcopal ordinations. I don't wish to open a polemical discussion here, but, historically speaking, the context in which the rite of ordination in England was changed, as well as the change effected, was very different from this one. –  AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 20 '14 at 6:51

as long as the church has a bishop originating from the seat of st peter the apostolic succession in such a church is valid. for example in catholic apostolic national church priesthood is valid because the founder was a validly ordained roman catholic bishop.

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Welcome. This site is designed to be a strict question and answer format. That means if you don't answer the question it will likely be deleted. The site is not a discussion forum. Here are some meta posts about this site to help you learn how we do it here: What this site is about and How this site is different. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Oct 19 '14 at 20:55
This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Oct 19 '14 at 21:02

James Black's answer was a good, but a tad confusing. The apostolic succession is authority behind the teaching office of the bishop. The Churches in communion with Rome are various rites of the Universal Church. That is why it's such a fallacy to even use the term Roman Catholic. It's really the just the Latin Rite and the Pope is the leader of all the churches who acknowledge the Chair of Peter, those Churches lack nothing in their distinct liturgies and traditions.

Moreover, Bl. John Paul II called the eastern and western churches the 'two lungs' of the church. Suffice it to say, if you're in one of those lungs, your Bishops are recognized as legit - that's the churches that are in communion with Rome and the Eastern Orthodox schismatic churches who broke off in 1052.

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There are some groups from the Eastern Catholic churches that are recognized, and in communion with Rome, but for much of the Eastern Orthodox churches this is not the case, and the issue of apostolic succession is a sticking point on full communion.

From this link I will paste what is most likely the complete answer. There are some Episcopalean churches that have left their faith and converted to be Catholic, and those priests are allowed to be married, but they are now in communion.

But, for any head of the church (the Pope) the RCC only recognizes the current Pope as being the successor of Peter, no other leader is seen as having that mantle.


The Eastern Catholics are the 22 Churches sui iuris that are in full communion with the pope, and act as part of the synod of the Catholic Church, while retaining self governing status as churches, called Churches Sui Iuris.

Byzantine Rite Catholics and Greek Catholics (14 churches sui iuris) (the terms are synonyms, as is Greek Rite Catholic) are generally portions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches which left the Eastern Orthodox communion and joined the Catholic Communion. 1 has no orthodox counterpart (Italo-Albanian GCC), 1 has an orthodox counterpart that is a schism from the Catholic (The ACROD split from the Ruthenian GCC); the rest have parallels from the time of their split. Two have no hierarchs (Russian and one other).

Other Eastern Catholics (7 churches sui iuris) are of other Eastern Rites, and most have non-Catholic Parallel churches. Some, the majority synod is the Catholic; others the majority synod is the non-catholic.

The Chaldeans (Catholic Communion) are parallel to the Assyrian Church of the East (Oriental Orthodox Communion)

The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankar Catholic Churches have parallel Syriac churches and protestant churches using the same liturgical rites.

The Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox churches parallel.

The Coptic Catholic Church split off from the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church parallels the Ethiopian Tehwado Orthodox and the Eritrean Orthodox.

The Armenian Catholics and the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox have an unusual relationship; the Armenian Catholics are in full communion with the other Catholic Churches, but are, as a practical matter, still in communion with their parent Armenian Apostolic Orthodox. Deacons assisting across church boundaries are common; priestly concelebration happens with patriarchal tacit approval. Hierarchical concelebration doesn't seem to happen...

The Maronite Catholics have no parallel church.

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CCC 1399 indicates that the Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church do have apostolic succession. It sounds like you are taking "apostolic succession" to mean "communion with the Pope" -- but it simply means "having bishops of Apostolic lineage". –  Ben Dunlap Dec 28 '11 at 23:20

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