The real Philomena Lee meets Pope Francis at the Vatican

Woman, whose story of forced adoption inspired a film, seeks help for other mothers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 9:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 4:05am


Philomena Lee, an Irish woman whose young son was sold for adoption by nuns in 1955, has met Pope Francis in Rome.

Lee, 80, was accompanied on Wednesday by her daughter, Jane Libbteron, and by Steve Coogan, the star, co-writer and producer of Philomena, the Oscar-nominated film based on her case. The group were representing The Philomena Project, a campaign which calls on the Irish government to open up adoption records and reunite mothers separated from their children as a result of forced adoption.

They attended mass in St Peter's Square before the audience with the pope. A screening of the film was expected to take place in the Vatican yesterday.

The meeting came a day after a Vatican spokesman dismissed rumours about such an audience. Father Lombardi said: "The holy father does not see films, and will not be seeing this one. It is also important to avoid using the pope as part of a marketing strategy."

Speaking after the meeting, Lee said: "I am honoured and delighted to have been in the presence of Pope Francis today. As the film portrays, I have always put great faith in the church and the goodwill to put the wrongs of the past right.

"I hope and believe that his holiness Pope Francis joins me in the fight to help the thousands of mothers and children who need closure on their own stories."

Lee's son Anthony was three years old when he was sold for adoption to the United States by nuns at a mother-and-baby home in Ireland.

Both mother and son searched for each other but the nuns who had engineered the adoption tried to prevent a reunion. With the help of the journalist Martin Sixsmith, who wrote a book about the case, Lee was able to find out what happened to her son.

Sixsmith's book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, was optioned by Coogan and subsequently turned into a film starring Judi Dench as Lee and Coogan as Sixsmith.

The movie has been nominated for four Oscars, including best picture.