Real-Life Philomena Meets Pope Francis, Attends Private Vatican Mass

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Philomena Lee

Stephen Frears, director of "Philomena," said he hoped the pontiff would watch the film, but a Vatican spokesman said that would not happen.

VATICAN CITY – Philomena Lee, the 80-year-old woman whose story was portrayed in Stephen Frears' Oscar-nominated Philomena, met Pope Francis Wednesday in a private audience.

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Ahead of Lee's meeting with the pope, Frears expressed hope that the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics would watch the film, but Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that would not happen, and he cautioned against using the pontiff or the Holy See in efforts to promote the film.

"The Holy Father does not see films, and will not be seeing this one," Lombardi said. "It is also important to avoid using the pope as part of a marketing strategy."

The meeting between Lee and the pope comes the same day the United Nations issued a report critical of the Vatican on several fronts — ranging from sex abuse to contraception, and including the previously held practice that resulted in the separation of mothers and their children. Philomena, which has been nominated for four Oscars — including best film as well as best actress for Judi Dench, who plays Lee in the film — is critical of the Catholic Church's role in separating young unwed mothers from their newborn children.

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The film, which tells the story of Lee's efforts to track down the son taken from her in 1952, was made into a book by BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith, and then adapted as a screenplay by Frears, Jeff Pope, and Steve Coogan, who plays Sixsmith in the film.

Lee and her daughter, Jane Libberton, were invited to the Vatican to meet Francis. Lee and Libberton founded The Philomena Project to pressure the Irish government and the Catholic Church to open up records that would help other mothers find children who had been taken away from them.

Twitter: @EricJLyman