Should our devotion and support of our religion and scriptures always be more important than our compassion and understanding of others?

As I used to teach my students: when you ask the wrong question you are going to get the wrong answer.

Your question is not correctly framed.  The question as it is framed presupposes a disconnect or a wedge between support of "religion" and the "Scriptures" and compassion and understanding.  Your question presupposes that one must choose between support of religion and the Scriptures and compassion and understanding. If I support religion and the Scriptures then I cannot be understanding and compassionate but if I am understanding and compassionate I can't support religion and the Scriptures.  

Why can't one do BOTH?  Why can't one support "religion" and the "Scriptures" yet be compassionate and understanding? I also note that one can only be "compassionate" and "understanding" with someone who realizes they are sinners and want to change.  One cannot be "compassionate" and "understanding" with those who deny sin, make excuses for it or seek to rationalize it away as many do today both inside and outside of the Church. "Compassion" and "understanding" thus presuppose that there is an objective right and wrong, there is sin and people are guilty of it.

A better way to frame the question is thus: "How can we support religion and the Scriptures while exhibiting understanding and compassion, recognizing that no one lives up to the standard?"

The Catholic Church and any Christian sect has always struggled in history with how to deal with sinners because unfortunately the answer to the question isn't always clear.  There are times in history when the Catholic Church rather than walking a middle, balanced road between the two extremes went to one extreme or the other.  Prior to Vatican II the Church was extreme with support of religion and the Scriptures but light on compassion and mercy.  After Vatican II however the Church in reaction to the excess focus on religion and the Scriptures went to the other extreme. Compassion and mercy are readily given--sometimes at the expense of religion and the Scriptures.  Neither extreme is good. How to find a middle way?  Below I cite two examples.

In the Catholic Church divorce and remarriage is prohibited because Jesus gives a rather absolute prohibition against divorce and remarriage in the Scriptures.  Yet we are faced with the reality that marriages do not always work out and we can't just ignore Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

The Church has come up with the annulment process to help such people.  It is a process that supports "religion" and the Scriptures" yet is understanding and compassionate.  It supports religion and the Scriptures because the annulment process does not dissolve a marriage. It exhibits understanding and compassion because if one can receive an annulment one in effect is given a second chance. I can't speak for other countries but in the USA the benefit of the doubt is usually given to the petitioner.  In other words more often than not annulments are granted.

Then there is the Sacrament of Confession. Again, this is a case where "religion" and the "Scriptures" are upheld yet a contrite sinner receives mercy and compassion. Confession is for all those who realize they don't measure up (everyone) to the standards Jesus set by his life and example. There they can receive the mercy of God and the Grace to live a life more worthy of God.

Hence I have to ask why you think the choice has to be an "either/or."  Why can't it be "both/and?"  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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