Some Criticize Philomena
for Being Anti-Catholic

by Barbara Free, M.A.

     Although The Lost Child of Philomena Lee was originally published in 2009, not much was heard about it until it inspired Steve Coogan to make a film in 2013. The movie, entitled Philomena, was nominated for several Oscars and its success has generated a heated debate among partisan critics about whether or not it promotes anti-Catholicism.
     Most notably, Kyle Smith, the film critic for the New York Post, in his review on November 21, 2013, called the film “a diabolical-Catholics film, straight up,” further characterizing it as an attack on both Catholics and Republicans. In response, the Weinstein Group, the U.S. distributor of the film, took out a full-page ad in various newspapers about a week later with “Philomena Lee’s Response to Kyle,” which reads, in part, as follows:

     Your review of [Philomena] ... as ... a condemnation of Catholicism and conservative views [is] incorrect.
     Stephen [Frears’] ... story of Martin and me searching for my long lost son ... is not a rally cry against the church or politics. In fact, despite some of the troubles that befell me as a young girl, I have always maintained a very strong hold on my faith.
     ... Stephen’s movie ... is meant to be a testament to ... the undying bond that exists between mothers and their children, something that I’ve found time and distance have no bearing on. It is a testament to the willingness to never give up on keeping that bond alive, even if all odds are pointing you against it. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter how old we grow, there is always a chance we will meet someone, however different from us, that might impact our views on humanity and help guide us on a new, if perhaps unforeseen, path.
     ... Not everyone has to love it, or take much away from it, but I speak on behalf of all of us in saying that what we don’t want is its message to be misinterpreted. ... Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story.
     In a less well-publicized commentary, presented as an “interview” with Raymond Arroyo, the host of “The World Over,” a weekly program broadcast on the Eternal Word Televison Network on February 27, 2014, Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, objected to the negative depiction of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the nuns who ran the Roscrea Abbey, who, he said, offered women and girls in a situation like Philomena Lee’s a better option than “the street.” Donohue seems also to have taken the film’s (as well as the book’s) depiction of events as literally true, despite the fact that, at the outset of the film, e.g., it is stated that the movie was only “inspired by true events.”
     Adam Pertman, adoptive parent, author, and blogger, with the Evan Donaldson Institute, commented that there are still many Philomenas among us, particularly in the U.S., where most women would have parented their children if they could have, and he says more are created every day by way of closed adoptions and closed records. He says that coercing or forcibly removing children from their parents inflicts profound and lasting psychic wounds, even when it is necessary. In the film, Philomena’s treatment looked like torture to him, and he believes it does to birth mothers everywhere, who certainly did not and do not “forget and move on.” He is not denying the need for removing children from abusive situations, nor the fact that many do relinquish willingly, and who do now receive the help they need. He also points out that everyone, regardless of their origins or circumstances, deserves to know who they are and where they came from. It is easy to say, “Oh, well, that happened over 50 years ago; times have changed and adoption is all lovely now.” Unfortunately, it isn’t so different in many cases, and yet, there are many who believe that birth mothers deserve to lose their children and must do penance by never finding them and never being allowed to search or to have any information.
     Other people, including adopted adults, birth parents, and adoptive parents, have written that the film was very powerful for them. Some recounted their own searches, some of which resulted in learning that a birth parent was already deceased. Others said they felt they needed to publicize the past of these Irish laundries more instead of keeping it a secret or acting like it wasn’t a big deal. Some said they found Philomena’s continued Catholic faith an inspiration, that she’d risen above the mean, petty attitudes to which she was subjected by the nuns, and that her courage brought about profound changes to Martin Sixsmith’s life, which, apparently, it did.
     Philomena Lee was present at the Academy Awards ceremonies in March, and did not seem to be in any way flamboyant. The film did not win any awards, probably because there were several other excellent films also nominated in each category, but for many who saw the film, especially those with adoption connections, it is a more important film than any Oscar winner, because it portrays the truth, and is the first major motion picture to show birth mothers as real people, not stereotypes of saints or evil personified. It’s the kind of film one might see over and over, and gain something new each time. Even if it were fiction, which it is not, it would be true in a larger sense, because it makes the loss of relinquishment and adoption real. It’s not a fairy story of “Once there two parents who wanted a child and God chose this one for them, and all lived happily ever after.”

Excerpted from the April 2014 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2014 Operation Identity