The First Child Sold by the Catholic Church

Andrei Tapalaga

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Anthony Lee and one of the nuns from the church in Roscrea, Ireland in 1955Daily Mail

Throughout history, it has been mentioned that the Catholic church took part in some unorthodox business, to say the least, but most of the cases cannot be proved. However, one more recent case from seventy years ago cannot be denied. This is the case of Philomena Lee’s son (Anthony Lee), who was given in adoption in exchange for a nice sum of money without the mother even knowing about it.

Philomena Lee still suffering after decades

At the time of this article’s writing, Philomena is eighty-seven years old and still suffering from the trauma she had to live in her past. But to get a better understanding of the whole story, we need to go back to when Philomena was only eighteen years old, and two months pregnant with Anthony.

Philomena’s parents didn’t agree with her having a child at such a young age. So as soon as the baby was born, Philomena and her son were sent to a ‘special’ church (Roscrea Catholic Church St. Cronan’s Parish) for single mothers in Roscrea, Ireland. With no other support from anyone, including the father, Philomena was forced to live at the church and follow the rules without being aware of the shady business taking place.

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Philomena Lee at the age of 18 and Anthony lee at the age of 3The Irish Times

To make things clear, this was a Catholic church and not a foster home. By the time Anthony reached the age of three, he was visited by various couples without the mother knowing. The nuns started receiving wealthy ‘donations’ which were actually the pay received in exchange for the church to give Anthony to a family who wanted to adopt him — even though he already had a mother.

Philomena described in an interview that she was forced by the nuns to sign the adoption papers (giving away her own child). She was still young and frightened by the nuns who abused her since she first came to the church. After this incident, Philomena left the church without speaking about this for fifty years due to the shame of having given her own son away out of fear and abuse by the Catholic church.

The secret coming to light

During those fifty years, she started to slowly leave the incident behind and live her life, so she got married and gave birth to a daughter by the name of Jane Libberton. One day, Philomena told Jane about Anthony and exactly what happened. Without hesitation, Jane started looking for her brother.

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Philomena Lee and Jane Libberton in 2014The Philomena Project

The nuns who worked at the church denied that any child was given in adoption by them or by the Catholic church. From her research, Jane discovered that many other children suffered the same fate as Anthony, and not only in that church. Even so, in the end, Jane managed to find Anthony’s trial. Sadly, it was too late.

His adoptive family named him Michael Hess, and he became a successful lawyer for the Republican party in the US. However, Anthony passed away in 1995 from AIDS. His ashes were buried at the same church where he was taken away from Philomena, showing that he never forgot his natural mother.

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Pope Francis meets Philomena Lee and actor Steve Coogan at the Vatican in 2014The Irish Times

Despite all of these events, Philomena never lost her faith as a Catholic; she knew this wasn't God’s doing but the nuns who were there only for money and nothing else. In 2014, Philomena was invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican. The meeting was a way for the leader of the Catholic church to show support for the cause and also ask for forgiveness for the trauma she had to live through because of the Catholic church.

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