"He really made me feel so good inside because I carried the
guilt inside me for 50 years, without telling anybody," Lee, 80,
said on Thursday, a day after a brief meeting with the pope.
Her long, ultimately unsuccessful search for the son who was
taken from her as an unmarried mother has struck a chord with
movie fans across the world and the movie "Philomena" has
received four Academy Award nominations.
"I felt such a sense of relief yesterday for the guilt I carried
and that I still carry a little bit today because you were made
to feel so, so bad about having a baby out of wedlock," she
said, sitting beside her daughter Jane Libberton and actor Steve
Coogan, who plays a reporter in the film.
"I felt such a sense of relief that I had been forgiven," she
said of her meeting with the pope.
Like many unwed mothers in 1950s Ireland, Lee was forced to work
in convent laundries while their children were put up for
adoption, usually taken by well-off American families.
Her son Anthony was taken away from her when he was 3. They
looked for each other but he died before they could be reunited
because adoption records were not made available by the nuns who
ran the institution.
"Anthony would be 62 this year," she mused, her grey eyes
drifting into the past. Lee later got married and had her
daughter Jane and another son, Kevin.
A soft-spoken woman, Lee became pensive when a reporter asked if
perhaps it was not she who should seek forgiveness but that the
Church which once subjected her to virtual slave labor should be
the one asking forgiveness from her.
LONG AGO, FAR AWAY
"It was a long time ago when all this happened. In the beginning
I was quite upset and unforgiving about everything," she said.
"I was very hurt and very sad and I did lose my religion a
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"I couldn't hold a grudge all these years. I have
forgiven everyone," she said, adding that she would not hold Pope
Francis or even the pope at the time, Pius XII, accountable for what
After leaving the convent laundry, she became a nurse, "sank my own
hurt into my work with others," and rediscovered her faith.
Lee and her daughter recently launched the Philomena Project, a
campaign calling for access to adoption records in Ireland and
elsewhere so mothers and their children can be reunited while there
is still time.
At their meeting on Wednesday, Coogan said he told
Pope Francis that "Philomena is a symbol of forgiveness and
reconciliation and that although she is an ordinary woman she did an
"The message of the film is in line with the values of Pope
Francis," Coogan said.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said 60,000 women had
been affected by forced adoptions in Ireland.
"Philomena has acted as a lightning rod because she is getting the
message out that the burden of shame and guilt that Irish society
put on her can be lifted by coming out, speaking about your
experiences and hopefully getting to meet your lost child," Lohan
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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