I said Pander, not Panda! Although a picture of a panda is the perfect way to pander…
So what does it mean to pander? I was watching this comedian, Bo Burnham, making fun of the new “stadium country” music. (Warning, explicit language and subject matter!) He talks about how they just use buzz words that pander to country music fans even though they themselves are removed from anything resembling a “country” life.
“A Dirt road, a cold beer, blue jeans, a red pickup… rural noun, simple adjective.”
Pretty much everything in modern media is guilty of blatant pandering, especially advertising. Pandering is necessary in a certain sense. If you don’t care at all what anyone thinks of your thing, then no one’s going to listen. You have to, to a certain extent, give people what they want.
Historically, the Catholic Church does not pander, in fact I would say even to a fault. This has been good in some respects because it means the church is not compromising to cater to people’s waxing and waning opinions. The church doesn’t agree with everything that modern society deems acceptable. For this the church has been called “irrelevant”. Under Pope Benedict the church was accused of this constantly. Now, being called irrelevant (and rightly so in many cases) is not good for the church either.
Pope Francis is doing something incredible though. He is making the church relevant again without pandering to the opinions of the general population. Certainly there are certain people who do not believe this though, conservative Catholics that believe in fact he is pandering to popular opinion. Liberal non-Catholics are accusing him of pandering in a “words only” sort of way. Meaning that he is saying what people want to hear but, like a politician, those words don’t match up with his actions. So for example on homosexuality he says “Who am I to judge” but has no intention of changing church teaching.
There is some truth to both of these because he is giving people what they want. He is talking about the relevant issues and giving the most sensitive and compassionate answers. He is not saying no to anyone, instead he is open to conversation. So in some respects both are right, but really neither are right. Pope Francis is doing what Jesus did, entering into the sins of others in order to bring them out. He’s not concerned about his image, so he cannot be pandering. He is authentically having discussion and hearing the concerns of the people, which is making the Church relevant again. He is also not just giving lip service, because he is making significant changes, specifically right now to the divorced and remarried as well as the annulment process. These are real changes that are significant to many more people than other hot topics like women’s ordination or homosexuality.
I want to end by saying if you are skeptical of Pope Francis, good! You should be, mostly because having real, honest, authentic dialogue about these issues is unpredictable and can lead to real change. However do not be afraid! Trust that the Holy Spirit is working through the church right now. These are incredible times we are living in that will make a mark on the history of Catholicism, be a part of history with Pope Francis!