System of church government by bishops. It existed as early as the 2nd century AD, when bishops were chosen to oversee preaching and worship within a specific region, now called a diocese. Today local congregations are shepherded by priests and deacons, but only bishops can ordain priests, perform the rite of confirmation, and consecrate other bishops. Their special duties are closely tied to the idea of Apostolic succession. Some Protestant churches abandoned episcopacy during the Reformation, but it was retained by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Swedish Lutheran churches, among others.