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?


4 Answers 4


I am not really satisfied with any of the answers given here, because they do not seem to answer the question.

First of all, apostolic succession refers to the fact that all bishops (that is, all those who have received the fullness of Holy Orders) can trace their Holy Orders all the way back to the Apostles. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 77-79. I will observe that the documentation detailing episcopal consecration only goes back to the Renaissance; however the Catholic Church holds that today’s Holy Orders form an unbroken line to the Apostles.)

Therefore, apostolic succession refers neither to doctrinal orthodoxy, nor to communion with the Bishop of Rome: it refers to the validity of holy orders in a given Church.

In addition to its own Holy Orders (both in the Western and the sui-iuris Eastern Catholic Churches), the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of the Holy Orders (hence of apostolic succession) in the following churches:

(Source: Wikipedia article “Holy Orders (Catholic Church).”)

Notably absent from this list are the members of the Anglican Communion. As Pope Leo XIII taught in his apostolic letter Apostolicae Curae, the Catholic Church holds that the Anglican Church lost its ability to consecrate bishops in the 16th Century, when it changed its rite for episcopal consecration. (Some individual bishops may have found ways to be ordained validly, but it cannot be affirmed with certainty as a body.)

It is possible that other smaller groups, such as the Old Catholic churches, maintain valid Holy Orders, but there is no official recognition of such groups by the Holy See.


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.


Gee, so many posts by people who have so little knowledge of this absolutely crucial matter (crucial for churches with sacramental theology --seven ecumenical councils, seven sacraments, visible church / hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons).

What is apostolic succession?

TO clarify the term: apostolic succession has nothing to do with unity with the Bishop of Rome / Holy Father the Pope. It is defined as succession of catholic teaching passed over via authority by laying on of hands from bishop to bishop since the time of the Apostles. (Read your Timothy on this).

Churches that left the idea of laying on of hands from bishop-to-bishop did so not of theological reasons but because they simply had no bishops in the first place. Where there is bishop, there is church.

For this reason, Vatican recognizes, accepts and acknowledges:

  • Eastern (non-Uniate) Orthodox

  • Oriental (non-Uniate) Orthodox

  • Old Catholics (who have no women in the line of succession, which is not the case for every Old Catholic bishop and priest any more

  • and Polish National Catholic Church (received apostolic succession from Old Catholics when Old Catholics did not even think about ordaining women.

    This is all nicely explained in Papal Declaration of 2006 called "Dominus Jesus".

Anglicans lost apostolic succession for two reasons:

  • 1 They started consecrating bishops from non-priests (presbyterial pastors who were never ordained into priesthood by a bishop in apostolic succession, only elected by laity and laid hands on by laity. Laity does not have apostolic succession, hence their laying on of hands cannot confer apostolic succession)..."no priest - no bishop".
  • 2 Because King Edward changed (ordered changes) the ordinal so drastially (protestant-way) that the words of the ordination and consecration no longer "did what the Church has always done". Unlike Orthodox, Old Catholics and Polish National Catholics.

Uniate Easter Churches

As to Uniate Eastern Churches, once they submitted fully to the Pope, they had to accept Roman Catholic doctrine (all of it) but they were allowed to keep their liturgy and practice (like married priests). As Uniates are "Orthodox-turned-Papal", and their apostolic succession was never in question (they ordained and consecrated clergy the way Roman Catholics did in the first millenium), there is no doubt as to their apostolic succession.

--Dr. Milan Josef Kučera

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    I edited your answer for format and ease of reading, per Mr Bultitude's comment. Please edit again if in editing I made an error. Nov 8, 2016 at 19:03
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    I believe that there are now significant issues with the Old Catholic apostolic succession, so that line is now dying out (which is why I didn't include them in my answer). Nov 8, 2016 at 19:50

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.

Catholic Answers

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, 2011 at 23:20

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