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January 6th, 2014
06:07 PM ET

Golden Globes week: Actor Steve Coogan responds to criticism 'Philomena' is anti-Catholic

(CNN) – "Philomena" is a movie earning Oscar and Golden Globes buzz. Based on the true story of Philomena Lee, the film stars Judi Dench as an Irish woman who spends nearly 50 years searching for a son she had to give up when he was just a toddler, and she an unwed teenager. Catholic nuns took the boy and had him adopted in the United States – a common practice in Ireland at the time – and then refused to help Philomena re-connect with her son. She crosses paths with a journalist who decides to document her story, played by actor Steve Coogan.

"Philomena" is nominated for three Golden Globes, including one for best screenplay - which would go to producer, writer, and co-star Steve Coogan. And while the movie has been well received, it has also been widely criticized.

"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.," critic Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post.

"But the reason they were ostracized, the reason they were castigated by their families, was because of the very church that (Smith) claims were there to look after them," Coogan said in response, during an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

"The church may have been part of the solution, as well as part of the problem ... because of distorted Catholic dogma," said Coogan.

The ending of the movie also portrays faith in Catholicism rather positively. Philomena "dignifies her own faith, she forgives the perpetrators of this misdemeanor against her," said Coogan.

There is also criticism abroad, and anger that the the Catholic Church was allowed to take over the adoption process.

The film lets the Irish government off the hook and "the scandal is present day because there has been no accountability, no inquiry and no one paying their dues to what was done to these mothers and their babies," says Mannix Flynn, a Dublin city councillor.

"If you're getting it in the neck from both sides, then you must be doing something right," said Coogan.

The criticism is valid, but a movie can only tell so much of the story, and there was no time to go into all the political details, says Coogan. The movie was also a personal story.

"What we didn't want to do is get into the whole idea of finger-wagging from the present-day against misdeeds of the past," said Coogan.

Coogan identifies as an atheist, but was raised Catholic – his parents fostered children from the Catholic Children's Rescue Society, and the actor went to Catholic high school.

Coogan said he had a mostly good experience growing up, and a good education. He doesn't focus on criticism identifying the film as anti-Catholic.

"I do have issues with the Catholic Church, but I do recognize that we can learn from religion, even the secular people ... really nobody has a monopoly on wisdom," says Coogan.

"It was important that although there are criticisms leveled at the institution of the church, that people of simple faith are dignified in the movie," said Coogan.

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