One word: Shameful

Actually, have some more.

Despicable, outrageous, distasteful, appalling.  And wrong.

Philip Tartaglia, newly installed as the next-to-be Archbishop of the Diocese of Glasgow, is already making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Apparently, while making a speech at Oxford University in April, one of the most powerful men in the Scottish Catholic Church suggested, in response to a question from the audience, that there might be issues linking gay people’s general health and well-being with their lifestyle.  And in so doing, he traduced the memory and reputation of David Cairns, the MP for Inverclyde who died suddenly and tragically at the age of 44 from complications linked to pancreatitis.

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.”

I encourage you to read it twice.   No, you are not imagining things.   This is what the man said and clearly, this is what he thinks and believes.

I did not know David Cairns personally.  We once crossed swords politically, over his Government’s introduction of back to work initiatives for disabled people which were being trialled in his constituency.  I worked for a voluntary organisation, he was the Scotland Office Minister.  It was a robust exchange on the Holyrood programme.  We also met across a table as part of a consultation meeting he was chairing.  He was fair, inclusive, incisive and knowledgeable.  Even though I didn’t agree with his Government’s position.  Again.

But he was an MP to admire, even more so, when, with a heavy heart, he resigned publicly in protest at the direction and leadership (or rather, leaderlessness) under Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.  It was brave and principled, like much of his life.

It was an honour and a privilege to be at the recent David Cairns Foundation fundraising dinner in Greenock recently, to hear more about the man, his life and his work, and to see, hear and feel – in full technicolour – the warmth, love and esteem in which he was held by his family and friends.  And how raw his loss was for them all, just about a year since his passing.

I liked the David Cairns MP we got on Twitter.  He did not just pronounce party platitudes but gave us his own personal view on a wide range of issues and causes which mattered to him.  He linked to interesting news and sites and he told us interesting things about what he was working on.

And for all us stay-at-homes on a Saturday night, his was essential company for his pithy asides about the various talent contests on our TV screens.  Though he liked to like performers and contestants too: even in 140 characters, he could be generous.

He was a high profile MP, not least because he got the law changed so that he might stand for Parliament.  Incredulously, former priests could not stand for Parliament and until he raised the issue, such breathtaking prejudice and discrimination had continued throughout history.  The law was duly changed and he became the first former Roman Catholic priest to become an MP.  And he remained a devout and practising Catholic throughout his life.  His faith mattered to him.

Maybe Archbishop Tartaglia might like to think about that.  Those in his and his church’s flock come in all shapes and sizes, with all manner of circumstances and backgrounds to call on, making them more rounded human beings in the process.

And despite the Archbishop-elect’s assertion, actually, David Cairns wasn’t really a “high-profile gay MP”.  What I know of his political persona, he did not make a campaigning virtue of his sexuality.  His longterm partnership with Dermot was lowkey – he kept his private life, private.  Which is as it should be.  Making it all the more outrageous that not only has David’s life and death been thrust unbidden and in a derogatory way into the headlines, but so too has Dermot, having to respond to what has been said.  He did it wonderfully on Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland this morning.  But he should not have to.

Dermot and all of David’s family and friends should be free to mourn his passing in the way that suits them and him, and not to have to come out and defend his life – and death – in response to homophobic comments and slurs by one of the country’s leading Churchmen.

The apology issued by his spokesperson is no apology at all: there was no intention to cause offence and he regrets that he “may have upset anyone“.

Essentially, the Archbishop-elect stands by his remarks and his view.  That David Cairns died at the age of 44 because he was gay.

Shameful.  Hurtful.  And wrong.