The real-life Philomena meets pope, says all is forgiven

Thu Feb 6, 2014 3:58pm EST
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Philomena Lee, whose long search for the son she was forced to give up as an unwed teenager in Catholic Ireland inspired the Oscar-nominated film bearing her name, says that after meeting Pope Francis she feels forgiven and has forgiven.

"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 three. 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.   Continued...

Philomena Lee (2nd R) poses with her daughter Jane (R), actor Steve Coogan (2nd L) and Susan Lohan (L), founder of Adoption Rights Alliance, at the end of a news conference in downtown Rome, February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi