I concluding his excellent and utterly honest historical study of the origins of the episcopate in the church, Francis Sullivan makes this statement which I found quite encouraging as a non-Roman Catholic. I’m curious what other Roman Catholic Christians would think of it.
I believe that we have sound reasons to hold that Christian ministry, in order to be fully valid, must be related to Christ and his apostles through the historic succession maintained in the college of bishops. At the same time, I believe that we have tended to pay too exclusive attention to the conditions we believe are required for the validity of ministry and have not sufficiently explored the implications of the fruitfulness of a ministry which may not meet all the conditions we believe are required for validity. One implication, which certainly needs deeper exploration, concerns the ecclesial character of communities that have not retained the episcopate, but which for centuries have led numberless Christians to grace and salvation through the effective preaching of the Word of God and a fruitful pastoral ministry. I do not believe we have done full justice to such communities when we simply declare that they are not churches in the proper sense.
–Francis Sullivan, S.J., From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (New York: The Newman Press, 2001), 236.