What if all the bishops die?

One of the Church’s fundamental sources of legitimacy is apostolic succession. What if all of the Bishops in the world, including the Pope and the College of Cardinals, due to some cataclysmic event, die without being able to consecrate any more bishops? Who will lead the Church?

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My guess would be another Damascus Road event where another Saul becomes another Paul and it goes on.


Yeah but even in that case he was ordained by the apostles.

I don’t think it’s possible for every bishop to die at once. At least one would be around.

Or Christ will return. I mean that would be some end time level shenanigans right there.


Ah! We’re not talking about the death of every Catholic, we’re talking about the death of just the episcopate.

That changes my answer then.

I’d bet that deacons would become de facto priests who would elect de facto bishops who would hold a very long and chaotic conclave.

If they died down to the deacons, then the guy with the most unofficial influence in Rome that was outside the episcopate would self-appoint as a camerlengo (sp?) and would act as pope until a conclave could be assembled.

Good thought problem!

Yeah, but “what if” it is possible? :slight_smile:

It’s all interesting speculation. Maybe all who are left regroup and form some post-apocalyptic (assuming a catastrophic event…nuclear war, perhaps) ecclesial body?

It’d make an interesting novel.

This is an impossibility. It would mean the end of the world.

The college of apostles has the divine prerogative of teaching the contents of the Deposit of Faith until the end of time, and they enjoy Divine protection in this area (Matthew 28: 18-20).


There actually is a novel about the death of the last priest. I don’t remember what it’s called though.

Needless to say, if it happened, Christ will be riding in on his mighty white stead to save the day.


Is someone writing a novel on this topic and trying to figure out any relevant Catholic theology? I’ve seen this exact question more than one place around the Internet lately.

Personally I reckon it’s moot and we’ll never need to know because God simply wouldn’t let it occur. Pragmatically I can’t even imagine the bizarre combination of circumstances that would have to align for all of the thousands of bishops across the globe to die in the same second with no chance to ordain anyone new. Even when bishops gather for important meetings there are always bishops who miss it because they’re sick etc.

Basically not a question I’m personally curious about, for that reason, but maybe a canon lawyer or theologian might find it fun?

And basically basically I’d concur with others that if it somehow did happen, that’d be the end times and… shrug. The end times have to happen some time. So whatevs? That’d be just an unexpected detail about the end times, that it coincides with the deaths of all bishops at once.

But again, maybe a theologian has something more concrete to contribute. I technically know basically nothing.

If you recall, please let me know. I’ll try and google it.

Agreed that there would likely be direct “intervention” by the Almighty.

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It is a story told by Blue in Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly. Amazing that I remember reading it as I senior in high school in 1960! (especially since I rarely can remember what I had for lunch yesterday) I still have my copy which cost 65 cents then.


Yeah, I don’t think so.

Take my opinion for the mere lay opinion it is, but I don’t think Catholic theology permits us to ‘plug’ this hypothetical hole (note that I don’t think we need to, either).

Apostolic succession requires bishops consecrating other bishops, going back in a direct line to the apostles.

Someone can’t just ‘invent themselves’ into being a bishop without the laying on of hands by bishops who are part of that existing apostolic succession.

That’s why, I think, other respondents here (and I’d tend to agree with them) are suggesting that if literally every bishop dies, literally all at once… that would immediately terminate future apostolic succession. There can’t be new bishops without old bishops to consecrate them.

Catholicism isn’t a man-made religion. We can’t just invent a ‘plug’ for a thought experiment ‘gap’. We have to interpret existing tradition and teaching.

Therefore the speculation about whether this would just signify the end times (or it would secretly turn out that some bishops actually survived, etc).


Sure, but the religion doesn’t belong to the Catholics, right? It belongs to your deity.

As the banner passed from the Patriarchs to the Levites to the Pharisees and Sadducees to the apostles, the deity can simply do it again.

Sorta the same deal as “can an atheist go to heaven?” The answer being that the church is bound by the sacraments while your God is not.

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Catholic perspective being that Jesus told us to expect the end of the world before the end of the Church. :woman_shrugging:t2:

If you’re not Catholic you presumably won’t believe that.

If you are Catholic presumably you will.

(Question here not being about what God could do, but about what He’s already told us (and told us while fully knowing the future) will happen.)

It’s exactly because the religion belongs to God, nor Catholics, that we Catholics can’t make up some different teaching to plug some hypothetical thought experiment gap. We just presume that the scenario posited by the thought experiment won’t happen, or that if it does it fits into our end times beliefs.

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Well, in fairness, I’m sure the Levites and Pharisees thought their deal was pretty permenant too, but Yahweh decided otherwise, right?

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:woman_shrugging:t2: We believe Jesus is God Himself who came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

Now that it’s fulfilled, no, we don’t expect God to need to ‘add’ to what He’s already fulfilled.

Jesus said “It is finished.”

Catholics trust in this.

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Sure. Not at all trying to attack your beliefs. Just pointing out that if Yahweh had to restart a succession of leadership - no big chore. It’s been done several times already.

First of all, it’s not going to happen. But if it did, assuming there were at least one priest left in the world, according to Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, he could ordain other men as priests, and then they could ordain, and so on. (Yes, I was surprised by this too.) The only assumption to be made — and this is a big assumption — is that the permission of the Pope, needed for validity, would be supplanted by epikeia, put another way, Almighty God would not demand the impossible, and this permission would “supply itself”. Ott did not go this far, and I’m not totally comfortable doing it myself. But here is the relevant passage:

A few years back, a traditionalist priest (Father Lucian Pulvermacher), with valid faculties that had never been revoked (long story), got a “conclave” of laymen to elect him Pope (another long story). As “Pius XIII”, a priest but no bishop, he ordained another man as priest, then as bishop (not sure how this worked), then gave this “bishop” permission to consecrate him as bishop, and, in his mind, reinstated a traditional episcopate (and the papacy while he was at it). It was as though he “restored the true Church” by means of sacramental jumper cables! You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, I read his web pages (to keep up with the goings-on, not to embrace his “true Catholic Church”), and he was a very endearing man, wrote some good things, seemed like a kind, sincere sort. There was a winsomeness to it all. I hated to hear of his passing. His rump “true Catholic Church” did not survive.


Informative! Thanks :blush:

what if a frog had wings, what if bigfoot is real, what if aliens are real, what if we are really living in a holographic reality, what if 2+2 suddenly equals B instead of 4, what if the Smurfs had to collectively fight Skeletor, what if while fighting Skeletor, Skeletor decided he wanted to be friends but only after he is allowed to eat one Smurf, what if i get tired of coming up with what ifs and take a break and come back in a few days to start back up. What if i continue doing what ifs right now, what if i thought about stopping doing what ifs and coming back later but then decided not to , what if a 3 eyed monster was ravaging a small town, and a priest well trained in the martial arts, had to defend said town, an only had a very sharp axe, an the only way to defeat said monster was to chops said monsters’ head clean off, should said priest do it to save his small village … ?

how many more what ifs are really needed? What if there can be never enough what ifs !


Umm… he didn’t suggest that every priest dies… just every bishop.

Each diocese’s college of consultors (a committee of diocesan priests) will appoint a diocesan administrator. They won’t have all the powers of a bishop. They receive additional abilities after being in the position for a full year. Still, they cannot ordain.

Here’s my wild guess: the whole point of canon law is for the good of souls. So, if we reached a point where the good of souls is impeded by a lack of priests and/or bishops, then some provision / exception might be made which would allow for ordination(s) of priests / bishops. I suspect that the Church would allow itself to be “rebooted” rather than let itself die. Just my guess, though.

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