Pope Francis: Literature and art must not exploit slave labour
By Devin Watkins
Maurizio Maggiani, an Italian author who writes romance novels, recently discovered that his books are printed by exploiting people in slave-like conditions in Pakistan.
The Ligurian writer then wrote an open letter to Pope Francis—published on the online news site Il Secolo XIX—asking: “Is it worth producing beauty thanks to the work of slaves?”
The Pope took up the invitation and wrote a letter of his own, which was published on Friday on the same website.
No idle question
In the letter dated 9 August, Pope Francis took up the author’s open question, and praised him for courageously confronting a problem which “many would have kept quiet about.”
“I was struck by your words,” wrote the Pope. “Yours is no idle question, because what is at stake is human dignity, a dignity which is today too often and easily trampled upon through ‘slave labor’ and the silent complicity of many people.”
He recalled how the early days of last year’s Covid-19 lockdowns revealed that much food was being produced by relying on day-laborers who lacked basic rights.
Exploitation and sin
Pope Francis said Maggiani’s question has revealed an even more striking point. “Even literature—bread of souls and expression of the human spirit—is wounded by the voracity of exploitation which takes place in the shadows, wiping out faces and names.”
The Pope said he thinks that “publishing beautiful and edifying texts while creating injustices is an inherently unjust act.”
“And for a Christian,” he added, “every form of exploitation is a sin.”
Yet, he said, “renouncing beauty would be a form of retreat that is also unjust, an omission of the good.”
Duty to report
The Pope went on to urge Maggiani, along with all in the field of literature, to take action against the practice of using slave labor to print books.
“However, the pen—or the computer keyboard—offers us another possibility: that of reporting and writing uncomfortable things that can shake us out of indifference, to stimulate consciences”.
Pope Francis added that he loves Dostoevskij both for his religious sense and for his habit of writing about “humiliated, pained, and poor lives.”
According to the Italian author’s letter, Maggiani also writes about “the stories of those who are silent, the last, and the humiliated.”
The Pope praised this inclination and Maggiani’s act of “putting the inconvenient voice of conscience in black-on-white.”
Renunciation of exploitation
Pope Francis also called on everyone to “renounce”—not cultural works and literature—but “attitudes and advantages which… we discover that promote perverse machinations of exploitation, which damage the dignity of our brothers and sisters.”
And he thanked the Italian author for bringing this important problem to his attention and for his “helpful reporting.”
“Thanks to all who undertake good renunciations and make objections of conscience to promote human dignity.”