THE new Archbishop of Glasgow has agreed to meet the partner of David Cairns, following his suggestion that the late MP’s death last year may have been linked to his sexuality.
Archbishop-elect Philip Tartaglia accepted the offer of a face-to-face meeting from Dermot Kehoe, Mr Cairns’s long-term partner, following a day in which he was criticised from all sides of the political spectrum.
In a statement last night, he also said he was “sorry for any hurt that has resulted” from his comments.
Mr Kehoe, who said the archbishop-elect’s comments were tantamount to clear “homophobia”, added that he welcomed the chance to meet him, but claimed his statement had failed to show “contrition” for the “pain” he had caused.
The developments came a day after The Scotsman revealed exclusively that at a public event earlier this year, Archbishop-elect Tartaglia had appeared to suggest that Mr Cairns’s death at the age of 44 was linked to his sexual orientation.
They were made less than a year after Mr Cairns, the former MP for Inverclyde, died in London from acute pancreatitis.
Asked a question about a gay man in America who had committed suicide, Archbishop-elect Tartaglia said that “society was being very quiet” about reports of the “physical and mental health of gay men”.
He then added: “Recently in Scotland, there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything and why his body should just shut down at that age.
“Obviously he could have had a disease that would have killed anybody. But you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing, but society won’t address it.”
The comments outraged friends of Mr Cairns, a former Catholic priest, who became the first former priest ever to win a seat at Westminster.
Ed Miliband and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon both condemned the comments.
Mr Kehoe said: “David died of pancreatitis: a gallstone blocked his pancreatic tract. That’s what happened to David, which could have happened to anybody.”
He added: “To take a personal tragedy like this and seek to use it to make a political point, it’s more than upsetting, it’s deeply painful.”
He added: “If he [Tartaglia] wants to know about David’s life and if he genuinely is interested, I am happy to talk to him about David’s life. That offer is out there and the ball is in his court.”
In an initial statement, the archbishop was said to “regret that anyone might have been upset” by his comments.
Last night, after Mr Kehoe’s call for a meeting, the Archdiocese of Glasgow issued another statement. A spokesman said: “The archbishop knew David Cairns, met him regularly at events in Inverclyde and was personally involved in his funeral arrangements.
“He is sorry for any hurt which has resulted. There was certainly no offence or judgment intended in his words.”
He added: “The archbishop would be willing to meet with Mr Kehoe, but such a meeting would be best carried out privately and after the media storm has died down.”
Mr Kehoe said last night: “I don’t understand how he can say he has made no judgment. He is still showing no contrition for the stress and pain he has caused. But I am happy to meet him at his earliest convenience to talk about David’s life.”
Archbishop-elect Tartaglia’s comments were made after a lecture in Oxford in April.
A recording of the lecture revealed he also used his address to argue that campaigners for gay marriage displayed “near hysterical” intolerance towards people who questioned the “homosexual agenda” from a Christian standpoint.
He also claimed gay rights campaigners were too keen to throw around accusations of “homophobic bigotry” against those who disagreed with same-sex marriage and added that they “use discredited tactics of the past, namely terror and intimidation, to advance their cause and close down discussion”.
But Mr Kehoe said last night: “It is not homophobic to say you don’t agree with gay marriage. It isn’t homophobic to think it is unchristian. But what is homophobic is to make generalised views based on their sexuality.”
The archbishop faced criticism from across the political spectrum yesterday.
Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, who was one of Mr Cairns’s closest friends, said: “Like him, I am a practising Catholic who takes my faith extremely seriously. I don’t care that Bishop Tartaglia is against homosexuality or gay marriage. Views like his are not only offensive and disrespectful to David’s family and friends, they also make the Catholic Church look ignorant and painfully out of date.
“He is wilfully ill-informed about medical facts, and statements like these should not and do not speak for the Catholic Church.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m sure during Bishop Tartaglia’s tenure as Archbishop of Glasgow I will agree with him on many issues and I will disagree with him on many issues. On this issue I profoundly disagree with him, both in terms of the specifics about the tragic death of David Cairns, but also on the generality on the link between ill-health and homosexuality.”