I was particularly struck by the coincidence in names, as my neighbour was telling me earlier in the afternoon that after seeing the movie, Philomena, that is currently playing in the cinemas in New Zealand, she was left very angry at what the Catholic Church. Both of us were nowhere near New Plymouth at the time of the fire, so I'm not implying that she went and set fire to the church to vent her anger, but I am wondering if some one in New Plymouth did.
I haven't seen the film, myself, but I have read that it is emotionally manipulative and very anti-Catholic movie, so much so that an atheist film reviewer, Kyle Smith, gave it a slam in the New York Post:
With “Philomena,” British producer-writer-star Steve Coogan and director Stephen Frears hit double blackjack, finding a true-life tale that would enable them to simultaneously attack Catholics and Republicans.
There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.
For the rest of us, the film is a witless bore about a ninny and a jerk having one of those dire, heavily staged, only-in-movies odd-couple road trips. Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a disgraced ex-government flack, journalist and pompous intellectual who, after getting fired, learns at a party about a human-interest story that might jump-start his career. It’s the woeful tale of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a woman of about 70 who, 50 years ago in Catholic Ireland, gave up for adoption a son born out of wedlock.
Frears (the director of “The Queen”) and Coogan revel in the details. When Lee, then 18, started to gain weight after a sweet evening with a boy at a carnival, she didn’t even know the term “pregnant.” She was sent off to an abbey to give birth in secrecy and shame, with the son, at age 3, given up for adoption. The film can’t quite decide whether the young mother was forced to give up her son Anthony; it makes as look as though she was, but also includes a scene in which contemporary Philomena adamantly denies coercion.
The film doesn’t mention that in 1952 Ireland, both mother and child’s life would have been utterly ruined by an out-of-wedlock birth and that the nuns are actually giving both a chance at a fresh start that both indeed, in real life, enjoyed. No, this is a diabolical-Catholics film, straight up.
The review created quite a bit of reaction, culminating in a full page ad taken out in the New York Times, denying that it was anti-Catholic, and including a letter from the real Philomena to the negative reviewer, Kyle Smith. Here's that full page ad:
Kyle fought back with another article:
[The real Philomena's] rebuttal is essentially that the film can’t be anti-Catholic because it’s about her, and she remains a woman of faith. “ ‘Philomena’ is meant to be a testament to good things, not an attack,” she wrote in her open letter. Then she forgave me for “not taking the time to understand my story.”
Let’s look at effect rather than intent. One refreshingly forthright reviewer, James Killough of Pure Film Creative.com, writes, ‘Phenomenal ‘Philomena’ Serves It up to Those ‘F – - – ing Catholics,’ ” adding, “If you don’t agree with Steve Coogan’s exasperated exclamation about Catholicism in reference to its abuse of, well, just about everyone in the history of its existence, then you’re likely a member of the Catholic clergy, or as terrorized by this most dangerous and egregious of Christian sects as Philomena herself.”
My inbox is full of e-mail from fans of the film saying “a) how dare you ding it for being anti-Catholic when b) the Catholic Church is so transparently evil?”
The film gives the false impression that Philomena’s son was (as Sixsmith put it in an article he wrote for, yes, The Daily Mail, “Stolen from his mother — and sold to the highest bidder”). It also claims the nuns burned all records to cover up what they’d done.
Dench even says, in an introduction to the book the film is based on, that you, Philomena, were “forced” to give up your child. Dench has already forgotten her line in the film, “No one coerced me. I signed of my own free will.” The audience will forget she said that too, since the rest of “Philomena” creates the strong impression that you, Philomena, were coerced into giving your son up for adoption.
As for the “sold to the highest bidder” claim, Sister Julie Rose, assistant congregation leader for the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Roscrea, Ireland, has replied (in the magazine The Tablet) that no money was accepted for adoptions and the order didn’t destroy any records.
My neighbour was also very angry about the supposed forced adoption and the money being taken for the adoption and the records being destroyed, none of which actually happened in real life.
I wonder if anyone else was even angrier and decided to send a message to the Church by burning down St Philomena's in New Plymouth. Somehow, I won't be surprised if that turns out to be what happened.
Related links: Fire extensively damages New Plymouth church ~ NZ Herald
UPDATE: Church blaze suspicious ~ Taranaki Daily News, Stuff
More reading: 'Philomena' Draws Catholic Backlash ~ US News