Labour MP Tom Harris’s letter to new Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia about comments regarding the death of David Cairns.
Can I offer my sincere congratulations on your appointment as Archbishop of Glasgow and wish you every success in the years ahead.
However, I wish to raise with you the issue of hurtful, ill-informed comments you made at an event recently, while discussing the issue of sexuality and which are featured in a video that is still online:
“Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP 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.”
I assume this was a reference to David Cairns, the late MP for Inverclyde and a former Roman Catholic priest. I was privileged to be one of David’s closest friends. His friends and family have spent the last year trying to come to terms with his tragic loss from complications arising from acute pancreatitis. Your public assertion that David’s illness might in some way be connected to his sexuality and lifestyle was not only unsupported by any evidence, but was, I fear, unworthy of your position as a leader in the Church. Your comments were based on ignorance, not on facts.
I accept that your comments may have been spontaneous and perhaps even a cause for regret after you had made them; you would not be the first public figure to make a mistake by thinking out loud. But I hope that you will revisit your words and honestly reappraise them in the light of the unnecessary and utterly unjustified distress they will have caused.
As it happens, I feel strongly that the Church should not be reluctant to voice unpopular or unfashionable opinions. In the ongoing debate on the issue of equal marriage, we are undoubtedly on different sides. It’s important, however, that those who oppose equal marriage for reasons of faith are not universally smeared as “homophobic”. But I fear that your comments about David play into the hands of such critics and will do the reputation of the Church more harm than good.
TOM HARRIS MP
Member of Parliament for Glasgow South