We never met, at least: only from afar. One time I was in Rome and I visited Vatican City, just as you blessed a crowd of believers. Perhaps your blessing has reached me, perhaps not. We have little in common, but last week I thought a lot about you, and about Douwe Bob. That is a Dutch singer who took eleventh place in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 with the song slow down.
Little of that motto is now left. Douwe Bob has fathered three children with three different women in a short time and Twitter is in turmoil. The singer is praised because he ‘spreads faster than the Omikron variant’, but there was also a discussion about gender equality: if Douwe Bob were a woman, with children by three different men, would he have been reviled?
To your ears, this may sound like backbiting. You know how annoying it is to be trending on social media – think of the mess at the end of 2020, when your Instagram account suddenly put hearts on scantily clad models. But the current discussion is based on an essential question. To what extent are you allowed to speak out about other people’s children?
For example, are childless people allowed to say ‘you chose it yourself’ when parents complain about the difficult aspects of parenthood? And vice versa: is it permissible to blame people without children for that?
I ask, Pope, because you called people without children but with pets “selfish” last week. You find them neglecting their duty: ‘Go and multiply’ fell on deaf ears.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Are you also selfish, Pope, because of your celibate state? Or does your Italian title, Papa, release you from further obligations? Should we see you as Our Father on earth? But what about that sneer at the pets? Your name Francis refers to a saint with a heart for animals, and you yourself wrote in 2015 that all living beings are connected. (In that regard, I hope you at least welcome the fact that the first successful transplant of a pig heart in a human has now taken place.)
On Sunday, the Adrianus year was heralded in Utrecht, in honor of the fact that 500 years ago a Dutchman was elected pope. ‘Habemus Papam’, loosely translated: we have a papa. What Adrianus thought of cats and children I do not know; he did hate long beards. Something he seems to have in common with you, and with Douwe Bob, who once wrote on Facebook “To beard or not to beard, that’s the question”.
Maybe it’s time to nominate another Dutchman at the Vatican. Who? Douwe Bob, of course. He is more Catholic than you when it comes to his multiplication.
Gemma Venhuizen is a biology editor at NRC and writes a column here every Wednesday.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 12, 2022
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