Oscar-nominated film Philomena tells the true story of an Irish teen ‘s long search for the child she was forced to relinquish by the Catholic Church. Today, the real Philomena Lee and actor/screenwriter Steve Coogan met with Pope Francis on their campaign for the release of secret church adoption files.
Lee was a teen in rural Ireland when she became pregnant in 1952. At a convent home for unwed mothers, she was forced to perform slave labor in a laundry before the nuns made her give up her son for adoption. As depicted in the film, she tried repeatedly for 50 years afterward to try to find out what happened to the boy, but met with stony silence from the church officials who refused to divulge adoption records. In her late 60s, Lee asked BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith to help to track Anthony down. Their search led them to the U.S. Lee learned that her son had also tried to find out from the nuns at the home for unwed mothers what happened to his mom. They claimed he had been abandoned. Unfortunately, the son died without finding out his mom’s identity.
Sixsmith wrote a book about their story, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, which Coogan adapted into the movie. British Actress Dame Judi Dench portrayed Lee in the film and Coogan portrayed Sixsmith. The film is up for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress. During last month’s Golden Globes Award ceremony, where the film was also nominated, Lee accompanied Coogan to the podium to introduce the film’s trailer. She told the worldwide television audience that the film is a shared story about all the women who had their children taken away and want to find out their fate.
Pope Francis met with Philomena Lee, now 80, and Coogan about opening church and government adoption records to help thousands of children and moms find each other. Lee has been leading an effort to help unite other mothers and children in Ireland who were separated by forced adoption. She has been asking the church and government to release records.
Named the Philomena Project, she co-founded her campaign with the daughter she had during her later marriage in Dublin in January. She is working with Adoption Rights Alliance to help the estimated 60,000 unwed women were forced to relinquish children in Ireland. Philomena – the movie and the woman – is now a catalyst to address the burden of shame Irish society put on women. Lee is hoping that Pope Francis will help those women reunite with their children. After meeting with the Pontiff, Lee told reporters she has always put faith in the Church and its goodwill to right past wrongs. She said that Pope Francis made her feel forgiven for the guilt she has carried and she too has forgiven.
Having met with Philomena Lee, the woman, on the adoption records issue, the Pope planned to watch Philomena, the movie, later today according to the Vatican.
By Dyanne Weiss