What would happen to the Catholic Church if all of the bishops get wiped out?

Are there any historical examples of such a possibility ever happening at a local or national level?

For example what, if some maniacal, evil, "hitler-esque" dictator decided that he wanted to cripple the Catholic church by assassinating all the bishops, and then he actually succeeds at killing them all, how would the church respond? With no Bishops to perform ordinations, It wouldn't take long for all the priests to die off completely. The church would still exist, however it would find itself in a position where it no longer has the power to perform the sacrifice of the mass, no longer has the ability to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful, no longer has the power to hear confessions. These are all very important aspects of Catholicism! What impact would these things have on the Church and how would it respond/survive/adapt to the new situation? I suspect it would start to look a lot like protestantism, as the only lords supper that would be possible would be a symbolic one and the focus of the faith would probably be redirected from the sacraments (which can no longer be validly performed) to scripture and preaching.

(I suppose Catholics could still achieve salvation by depending on baptism and perfect contrition, but going without Eucharist, Mass and confession is a big ask!)

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    It's not too late to salvage this question! Just remove the parts that seem speculative and concentrate on the parts that are concrete like what @ken grahm's answer illustrates. There's a spiritual dimension to this question too that is worth looking in to.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 14:00
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    But in all seriousness, there's no point in asking everything that pops in to your head! Please try to concentrate on getting answers for problems that you have.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 14:02
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    On most SE sites, questions involving speculation are not a good fit. This question, as written, is a hypothetical that has less to do with Christian belief and practice than the presentation of a thought experiment. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 15:00
  • Perhaps "Could it happen…?" would not be considered opinion-based?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 18:47
  • If this question was edited in a proper way, I would consider voting to reopen it. There are some key points that could be brought to light, such as how to marry without a priest present, celebrate a modified liturgy and so on.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 14:17

1 Answer 1


Fearing that your question will be closed as either off-topic or opinioned based, it seems that the only answer one could possible give would be entirely based on speculation.

The Catholic faith could possibly be preserved in one of several ways, like these for example:

  • It could be the end of the world.
  • Some Catholics might try to get ordained by non-Catholic, yet validly ordained bishops of the Orthodox Churches.
  • Or simply and yet more realistically the Catholic faith would continue to survive without any priests or bishops.

That last scenario is not without precedence. It has happened before. The faithful of Japan survived in great numbers for some 250 years without any Catholic priests or missionaries. That is not a little thing!

In 1614, all Catholic missionaries were expelled from Japanese soil. Fr. B. Petitjean arrived in Nagasaki, Japan in August 1864 and was able to construct a small Church. On March 17, 1865 he discovered that the Christian faith had survived in Japan for some 250 years without any missionaries (priests) to administer the sacraments!

Japan was forced to open to foreign interaction by Matthew Perry in 1853. It became possible for foreigners to live in Japan with the Harris Treaty in 1858. Many Christian clergymen were sent from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches, though proselytizing was still banned. In 1865, some of the Japanese who lived in Urakami village near Nagasaki visited the new Ōura Church which had been built by the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Missions étrangères de Paris) barely a month before. A female member of the group spoke to a French priest, Bernard Thadee Petitjean, and confessed that their families had kept the Kirishitan faith. Those Kirishitan wanted to see the statue of St. Mary with their own eyes, and to confirm that the priest was single and truly came from the pope in Rome. After this interview, many Kirishitan thronged toward Petitjean. He investigated their underground organizations and discovered that they had kept the rite of baptism and the liturgical years without European priests for nearly 250 years. Petitjean’s report surprised the Christian world; Pope Pius IX called it a miracle. - Kirishitan (Wikipeia)

In Japan this is liturgically celebrated as the Finding of the Japanese Christians. Sorry, St Patrick's Day is not a big thing this day in Japan!

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    Great answer! Didn't realise that the situation I described had actually already happened before. Wow Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 19:49
  • Btw what are the "liturgical years"? As seen in that quote? Is that referring to the liturgical calendar? Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 19:52
  • Look up the National Calendar for Japan here.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 22:10

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