Philomena Lee and actor Steve Coogan smile as they pose following a news conference in Rome.
ROME: 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 unsuccessful search for the son taken from her as an unmarried mother has struck a chord with movie fans 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.
Soft-spoken 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 labour should be the one asking forgiveness from her.
“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 little bit.
“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 happened.