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I recently used "Verzeihung" to apologize, whereupon the person smilingly responded

Ich bin kein Pfarrer.

I looked up the word on and found "Entschuldigung" among the synonyms, like I found "Abbitte", which (to me) has a more or less strong religious connotation.

That left me wondering: is "Verzeihung" better suited for religious contexts?

In other words: should "Entschuldigung" be used for "normal" apologies instead?

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This was most probably meant as a trivialising acceptance of your apology. The recipient wanted to clarify, that he/she is no person commanding respect like a priest (Pfarrer) and though there's no need to apologize for minor matters. This doesn't mean you should not apologize in future, but was more an ennoblement of your relationship. – Franz Ebner Aug 12 '14 at 10:37
@FranzEbner So... it does carry religious connotations? – user6191 Aug 12 '14 at 10:40
IMHO, not at all. This would also work with headmaster for instance. – Franz Ebner Aug 12 '14 at 10:42
No. "Verzeihung!" is not religious at all, but it might be perceived as more formal than "Entschuldigung!", and less sloppy than "'Tschuldigung..." – shuhalo Aug 12 '14 at 12:04
@Hulk Just found that Wikipedia redirects from Verzeihung to Vergebung. – user6191 Aug 12 '14 at 14:17

Verzeihung does not carry any religious connotations.

Most likely, the person you were talking to considered your apology as overly formal and was trying to make it clear that this level of formality was not required.

Of course, forgiving is a central topic in all Christian confessions. The word most frequently used to express this concept in religious contexts is Vergebung and the corresponding verb vergeben.

"... und vergib uns unsere Schuld, ..."

from the German version of the prayer Pater Noster.

Still, even this word is by no means exclusively religious. For example, a person might ask forgiveness from a lover for some serious breach of trust by saying

Kannst du mir noch einmal vergeben?

It is not used for trivial mistakes (except mockingly).

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