THE most senior catholic in Scotland has suspended direct talks with the Scottish Government on the subject of gay marriage after relations between the two bodies became “strained” by the proposals.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien opposes same-sex marriage, which the Scottish Government last month announced it plans to legalise.
Yesterday, a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond denied reports the two men were no longer on speaking terms, saying they had spoken by phone on Saturday.
However, it has emerged that Cardinal O’Brien has asked for all future discussions between the Church and Scottish Government on the issue of same-sex marriage to take place between officials.
The Scottish Government intends to bring forward a bill which could see the first same-sex marriages take place in 2015.
The Holyrood administration insists that protections will be included in the new law to ensure churches and individuals within them do not have to conduct same-sex marriages if they do not agree with them.
The Catholic Church has described the move as a “dangerous social experiment on a massive scale”.
The Scottish Government said the First Minister and Cardinal O’Brien had an “entirely amicable” phone conversation on first name terms on Saturday.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: “The First Minister spoke at some length with the cardinal and had an entirely amicable conversation on first name terms. It is inevitable that government ministers will not always agree with church leaders – this is an honest disagreement about an important policy issue, and we have the utmost respect for the different views expressed in the debate.”
He added: “While this is an honest disagreement over policy, on a personal level relations between the First Minister and the Cardinal are extremely good, as they are with Scotland’s other faith leaders. Mr Salmond holds the cardinal in the highest regard and will always do so.”
But Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Church, said relations between the cardinal and the Scottish Government were “strained”. He said: “There was never a suggestion that people were not going to talk. Things are definitely strained and more difficult since they made the decision on same-sex marriage.
“It’s difficult to continue a dialogue with someone when they consistently ignore all the points you make. That’s definitely put a strain on the relationship.”
Nearly two-thirds of all people in Scotland who responded to a consultation on the issue of same-sex marriage said they are against the change and many religious groups, including the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, are opposed to it.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the result of the consultation was just one of the factors the government considered when reaching its decision.
Ministers also took into account the support for gay marriage from the leaders of all the other main political parties in Scotland. While the UK government has also carried out a consultation on same-sex marriage, it has yet to publish the result.
Dr Peter Lynch, a political expert at Stirling University, said that while the issue was important for the Catholic Church, it was unlikely to cost the SNP support in the run-up to the 2014 referendum on independence.
“It’s an issue for the SNP, but I don’t know how much it will spill into the broader constitutional issue. I’m not sure it will.”