The Pope meets Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan meets Pope Francis along with Irish woman whose story of having her son taken away by Catholic Church inspired his new film Philomena
By Nick Squires, Rome6:26PM GMT 05 Feb 2014CommentsComments
The Pope has met Alan Partridge – or rather his alter ego, Steve Coogan.
The British comedian and director was introduced to Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday along with Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who was a teenager when her three-year-old son was forcibly taken from her by Catholic Church authorities and put up for adoption.
Her story has inspired the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, directed by Mr Coogan, which tells of her 50-year search for her long lost son, who was sent to a family in the United States. They were never reunited – her son died of AIDS.
The film, which stars Mr Coogan and Dame Judi Dench, was based on a book by Martin Sixsmith, the British journalist.
Mrs Lee, 80, is a founding member of the Philomena Project, which calls on the Irish government to open up adoption records and reunite mothers separated from their children as a result of forced adoption.
She was 18 when her toddler was taken from her in 1952 and kept the tragic story a secret for 50 years.
An estimated 60,000 unmarried Catholic Irish women were shamed into giving up their babies and young children.
The meeting with the Pope had particular resonance, coming on the same day that a UN committee lambasted the Vatican for shielding sexually abusive priests and for failing to ensure the protection of children in the care of the Catholic Church.
The UN committee was sharply critical of Ireland’s notorious “Magdalene Laundries”, Church-run institutions for unmarried girls who got pregnant, which were not closed down until 1996.
Girls placed in the institutions were “forced to work in slavery-like conditions and were often subject to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment as well as to physical and sexual abuse.”
The UN committee called on the Vatican to fully investigate the institutions, to refer abusive nuns to the authorities for prosecution and pay full compensation to the victims.
At the audience Mrs Lee, still a committed Catholic despite her child being taken from her, told the Pope: “I’m very happy to meet you.”
Afterwards she said: “As the film portrays, I have always put great faith in the Church and the good will 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.”