Interestingly the Catholic Church sold the toddler Michael Anthony Hess pictured with Reagan above shrouded in secrecy to rich clients. And forced their birth mothers to sign off their rights to access them. Worst of all they lied to the children they were abandoned so not allowed to trace their birth mothers. Blackmailed the mothers to forfeit their right to see their children if the children look for them. Anthony Lees’ name changed to Michael Hess by his adoptive parents. It was a web of lies to separate mothers from their children snatched away by such force without any goodbyes. The business was very lucrative they even sold the children for pardons. Philomena’s case was one of the worst cases because Anthony, her son, was prominent American lawyer in government and travelled three times to Ireland in search of his mother lied to by the nuns. The nuns deceived him yet buried him at convent nunnery without telling his mother who lived locally. All was later revealed after Anthony’s mother Philomena travelled to America to look for Anthony her son before the details of scandal was exposed. Through chance encounter at a New Year’s party in 2004 a message for journalist a friend to help solve a family mystery. Agreed to meeting embarked on five-year quest for Anthony once had chance encounter with in the white house but unaware in the photo they met before. The woman’s friend called Jane from St Albans was in her late 30s and through an emotional experience. Before Christmas, Jane’s mother, Philomena, was tipsy on festive sherry so revealed a secret she kept for 50 years that she had a son she never mentioned to anyone. Jane said her lost brother would be in his early 50s and probably living in America. The reason for the secrecy was he was born outside marriage in Ireland at a time when such things were considered shameful. A film documentary played by the Dame Judi Dench as Philomena brought story back to life to expose injustices to children. Philomena herself met Martin Sixsmith the journalist who researched the story. She had given birth in country convent at Roscrea in County Tipperary on 5 July 1952. She was 18 and met a young man who bought her toffee apple on a warm autumn evening at a county fair. “I had just left convent school,” she said with an air of wistful regret. I went in there when my mother died, when I was six and a half, and I left at 18 not knowing a thing about the facts of life. I didn’t know where babies came from… When her pregnancy became obvious, her family put Philomena “away” with the nuns. After her baby, Anthony, was born, the mother superior threatened Philomena with damnation if ever she breathed word about her ‘guilty secret.’Terrified, she kept quiet for more than half a century. “All my life I couldn’t tell anyone. We were so brow beaten, it was such a sin. It was an awful thing to have a baby out-of-wedlock … Over the years would say I will tell them I will tell them but ingrained deep down in my heart that I mustn’t tell anybody, that I never did.” Was intrigued to know why the nuns were so insistent on importance of silence and secrecy. However, answers certainly were in what happened next. Philomena was one of the thousands of Irish women sent to convents in the 1950s and 60s, taken away from their homes and families because Catholic church said single mothers were moral degenerates who could not be allowed to keep their children. And they were harshly treated and rejected by families for disgracing their family having child without wedlock. Overwhelmingly such was the power of a church and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, state bowed before demands, ceding responsibility for the mothers and babies to the nuns. It was not only a matter of sin or morality but of pounds, shillings and pence. At the time young Anthony Lee was born I discovered that Irish government was paying Catholic church pound a week for every woman in care and two shillings and sixpence for every baby. That was not all. After giving birth, the girls were allowed to leave the convent only if they or their family could pay the nuns £100. It was a substantial sum, and those who couldn’t afford it the vast majority were kept in the convent for three years, working in kitchens, greenhouses and laundries or making rosary beads, religious artefacts while the church kept the profits from their labour. Crueller than their work was fact that mothers had to care for their children, developing maternal ties and affection torn asunder at the end of the three-year sentence. Like all the other girls, Philomena Lee was made to sign their renunciation document agreeing to give up her three-year-old son and swearing on oath: “I relinquish full claim forever to child to surrendering him to a Sister Barbara Superioress of that Sean Ross Abbey. The purpose enables the Sister Barbara to make her child available for adoption to any person considered fit and proper, inside or outside a state. I further undertake never to attempt to see, interfere with or make any claim to the said child at any future time.” The blackmail of mothers prevented future interaction with adoptive parents or an awkward encounters between them. So selling the babies meant their mothers no longer had any rights to the children wrenched from them. Makes it easier and more convenient to cover up their trails and prevent exposure of the scale of the scandalous treatment by church.Philomena says that she fought against the signing their terrible undertaking. “Oh God, my heart. I didn’t want him to go. I just craved and begged them to please let me keep him. None of us wanted to give our babies up, none of us. But what else could we do? They just said, ‘You have to sign these papers.’ “I remember it was a Sunday evening … I’m so sorry, I’m crying when I think about it … ” Philomena cried as Anthony was taken from her Christmas 1955. She was not told he was going or allowed to say goodbye, but she spotted him being bundled into back of a black car. When she shouted to him, the noise of engine drowned out her voice, but as the car pulled away she is convinced he stood up and peered through the rear windscreen looking for her. Afterwards, her father didn’t take her back because of the shame told friends, neighbours and Philomena’s sisters that she had gone away and no one knew where she was. So in the end the church dispatched her to work at one of homes for the delinquent boys in Liverpool. So Philomena trained later as a nurse, got married in 1959 had two more children. She longed to tell them about their lost brother but could not. She had kept her secret but never forgot her son. “Oh he was gorgeous,” she told me. “He was a lovely, gentle, quiet lad. All my life I have never forgotten him. I will often say, ‘I wonder what he is doing? Has he gone to Vietnam? Is he on skid row?’ I didn’t know what happened to him… And without telling anyone, Philomena embarked on lonely, desperate search to find him. She went back to convent in Roscrea several times between 1956 and 1989 and asked the nuns to help her but each time they refused brandishing that she had sworn an undertaking she will “never attempt to see” her child. When I agreed to help look for Anthony in 2004 we had little to go on. We knew his date and his place of birth but then his name certainly changed by adoptive parents. Philomena had been told her son would be taken to the US, but little else. Early in the search I realised the Irish Catholic hierarchy had been engaged in what amounted to an illicit baby trade. From end of second world war until 1970s, it considered thousands of souls born in its care to be the church’s own property. With or without agreement of mothers, sold them to highest bidder. Every year, hundreds were shipped off to American couples who paid “donations” in reality, fees to the nuns. Few if any checks were made on the suitability of the adopting families. The only condition laid down by Archbishop McQuaid was that they should be practising Catholics. When rumours of the church’s role began to emerge decades later all incriminating paperwork disappeared in unexplained circumstances. Even today the church guards its adoption archives fiercely. It took painstaking trawl through passport records and piecing together of fleeting references in old newspaper articles to discover what become of Anthony Lee. Doc and Marge Hess, St Louis, Missouri fulfilled McQuaid criteria good Catholic, a professional couple in their 40s, and Marge’s brother was a bishop. Hesses had three sons but wanted a daughter. Course of research came in possession of Marge Hess’s diaries and traced her innermost thoughts when she flew to Ireland August 1955 to scour church’s mother and baby homes for little girl. I read impressions of shy three-year-old, Mary McDonald, offered to her by the mother superior of the Roscrea convent. Discovered a twist of fate led her adopt Anthony Lee. As Marge leaned down to pick up daughter in convent nursery, was charmed to see Mary’s best friend, a little boy in baggy trousers running to give her a kiss. She fell for him at once, called her husband in St Louis to ask if its OK to bring two children instead of one. Anthony’s spontaneous show of his affection for Marge changed his life. By end of 1955 he and Mary transported from rural Ireland to a new existence and new identities. He was renamed Michael Hess and grew up to be an A student. He was physically attractive and gifted, ran cross-country and sang in school musical productions. Haunted by half-remembered visions of his first three years in Ireland and by a lifelong yearning to find his mother. Separated by fate, mother and child spent decades looking for each other, thwarted by the refusal of nuns to reveal information, each of them unaware the other was yearning and searching. Michael was a successful lawyer, rising star of Republican National Committee, masterminded party’s electoral strategy, brokering redistricting gerrymandering reforms that kept them in power more than a decade. George Bush Sr became president and so made Mike chief legal counsel. Michael Hess was gay. He was obliged to conceal his sexuality in party rabidly homophobic. He was tormented by double life forced to lead and by the fact his work entrenched in a power of a party that victimized his friends and lovers. Tormented by absence of mother and by orphan’s sense of helplessness: didn’t know where he came from, didn’t know who he was or how to live. He felt unloved by adoptive father or brothers he felt guilt over his sexuality and had a series of stormy relationships. Disappointed spurned lover then burnt himself to death because Mike rejected him. Loved by his adoptive mother and by the little girl plucked with him from Roscrea convent who became lifelong friend and sister. Wonderering if raised as child couples will he stop being gay if his first love was not his sister so felt let down? He found happiness in long-term relationship with caring, loving partner. But never be at peace went to Roscrea, first in 1977 and again in 1993 to plead with nuns to tell him how to find his mother, turned away. On his return to the US, he plunged into alcohol, drugs and unbridled sexual indulgence. His behaviour brought with it terrible fear exposure would destroy him as senior Republican official but he could not stop himself. On one of lost weekend became infected with HIV. He and Pete his long-term partner agonised over their future. Pete stood by him, but Michael’s health began to deteriorate. Fearing the worst, they flew to Roscrea in 1993 to make an emotional appeal to the nuns … but still they refused to tell him where he could find his mother, indeed her sisters and brother, his aunts and uncle living just a few miles down road. In desperation, Mike asked mother superior if he could at least be buried in convent if he died to put information on his gravestone to help his mother find out about his life “if ever she comes looking for me.” We know now but Mike did not, Philomena was looking for him returned to Roscrea seeking traces of her son… Obituaries in US newspapers after Michael’s death in August 1995 provided vital clues in my search for him. The hunt for Michael took me through state and the church archives, adoption agencies, American university records and the Republican party sources before it led to end of the trail and story’s poignant, unexpected conclusion. It threw up Hardyesque tale of coincidences and missed connections, and powerful indictment of historical eras, 1950s Ireland and 1980s America.Mike and Philomena’s quest, discovered thousands of other lost ‘orphans’ whose lives were changed forever by the greed and hypocrisy of church and state. Like Michael, many of them are still looking for their parents and, through them, for their identity. Now in her 70s, and five years after visiting her son’s grave for the first time, Philomena is remarkably devoid of bitterness. She started to go to mass again but she blames herself for everything, for giving her son away and for not speaking out about him earlier, when things could have been different: “If only, if only, I tell myself every time I think of it. If only I’d mentioned it all those years ago, maybe he wouldn’t … Oh Lord, it makes my heart ache! I’m sure there are lots of women to this day, they’re same haven’t said anything. “It is the biggest regret of life and I have to bear that. It is my own fault and now it is my woe.” Some gays or lesbian nuns in those days will be killed or jailed for their sexual orientation. The best way to avoid exposure was hide behind God in Catholic church as an undercover priest accessing people taken advantage of by power of authority. Without pressure to marry as a priest is convenient to abuse children. So not all Catholic priests were genuinely called to serve God but used it as hiding place to serve themselves to stop arrest or being killed. Sadly this tarnished the Catholic Church with the bad apples. The lesson for all readers is, no matter how others perceive you, still you are highly valued by God your creator. Mankind can label you and shame you but God ALMIGHTY LOVES YOU REGARDLESS of what nasty things people say to you. Do not live your life through sad comments or bad opinions of people. Live by TRUTH Jesus Christ Loves you whether from a single home or not. The truth you KNOW SETS YOU FREE IN JESUS NAME put your trust and CONFIDENCE IN GOD IN CHRIST. Above remember Jesus prayed forgive them all for they know what they were doing. Forgive all to release you from the toxic pain that poisons your life if you refuse to let go of hatred, anger and bitterness to put it at feet of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus said if do not forgive others you will not be FORGIVEN by God. Don’t abuse yourself by holding onto abuse of wicked people hurting others in the NAME OF GOD. Let God deal with them all, GOD SEES ALL secrets if nobody believes you. So focus on your life and forgive yourself and heal emotionally.
The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith book is published by Macmillan, £12.99. To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p, go to the guardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846