Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is 'Philomena' an anti-Catholic film?

By Donna Brazile, CNN Political Commentator
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 2158 GMT (0558 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Pope Francis has reoriented the church to stress humility, forgiveness
  • She says critics who say the new film "Philomena" is anti-Catholic are wrong
  • Film tells story of woman's effort to forgive people who treated her cruelly, she says
  • Brazile: It's not anti-Catholic to question or to talk about failings of the past

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- As a practicing Catholic all my life, my faith and the church are never far from my mind. The lessons I learned in the church have structured the way I've approached my life and my career. They were lessons of grace, kindness, forgiveness and compassion.

Under Pope Francis, we have seen a change at the Vatican that is reflective of the church I know and love. He approaches controversial doctrine or past wrongdoing with humility, understanding and faith in the goodness of mankind. He has served as a voice for the voiceless, and has been working to re-establish the church as a home for the homeless.

The church is moving into a new era, where its leadership understands that what makes the church strongest is when it acknowledges, in Pope Francis' words, "We all make mistakes and we need to recognize our weaknesses."

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

The true potential that this new era holds is Pope Francis' embrace of the lesson that how we forgive those mistakes and how we grow from those weaknesses is what defines us, and defines our faith.

Pope Francis himself recently acknowledged that the church must grow and change, including in how it trains its clergy, lest the church find itself — these are his words -- "creating little monsters."

'Philomena' star responds to critics
Gravity leads BAFTA nominations

Recently, I saw "Philomena," a film that I believe illustrates the need for this new era, and the potential that it holds.

Philomena's story is a difficult one. She became pregnant out of wedlock at a young age and was taken in by nuns in Ireland who arranged for her son to be adopted by an American family.

While she worked hard to pay her keep, she was only permitted to see him one hour a day. Then, at age 3, he was gone -- adopted by an American family in an arrangement made by the nuns without Philomena's input. Philomena was treated harshly by some of the nuns in whose charge she was left, the same ones who ensured she would never see her son again—though she never stopped loving him.

The argument made by some of the film's detractors is that the painful, yet accurate, portrayal of the nuns Philomena encountered is evidence that the film, its producers, and even Philomena Lee herself have an anti-Catholic bias and worse -- a vendetta against the Catholic Church and a political agenda. These nuns who kept Philomena from her son may very well have been examples of the "little monsters" that Pope Francis fears.

I viewed the film quite differently from these critics -- and instead saw in it the positive attributes of my Catholic upbringing, attributes that are increasingly at the forefront of religious discussion.

To love my church is to be able to question it when it does wrong, forgive it for its mistakes, and still have faith in it to do right.
Donna Brazile

Quite simply, I believe the lessons found in Philomena's story are lessons that many of us hope to be the cornerstone of a new era of Catholicism under Pope Francis.

At the heart of the film is not only Philomena's journey to find her son, but also her journey to find forgiveness for the individuals who treated her with such cruelty, and the church that allowed them to do so.

I, like Philomena, am a lifelong Catholic, and still regularly attend church. My faith is important to me, I love the church and believe it is an important force for good, both here in America and throughout the world. But that doesn't mean I don't have disagreements with some of its policies or leaders.

On occasion, with issues such as same-sex marriage and contraception, I have found myself at odds with pieces of traditional church doctrine. But to be religious is not to never question or disagree. To love my church is to be able to question it when it does wrong, forgive it for its mistakes, and still have faith in it to do right.

In Pope Francis, I see a leader who lives every day in the image of Jesus. Under his guidance, the church is focused once again on providing comfort, compassion and salvation for sinners, the poor and those who seek peace in an increasingly complex world.

That's my Catholicism. That's Philomena's Catholicism. That's the Catholicism of millions who believe, even when they disagree. It's not anti-Catholic to question, nor is it anti-Catholic to be honest about the previous shortcomings of the church, because that is the only way we can ensure its strength and dignity moving forward. It is, however, very Catholic to forgive each other, and to never stop loving each other.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT