Catholic leaders have claimed that gay marriage will be “harmful” to society in talks with Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon met Bishop of Paisley Phillip Tartaglia yesterday as part of a government consultation on the issue.

Catholic Church parliamentary officer John Deighan told the Scotsman: “Bishop Tartaglia was forthright in his assertion that proposals to legislate for same sex marriage would be harmful to society and to the government.”

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sturgeon said: “While ministers tend towards the initial view that same-sex marriage should be introduced, faith groups and their celebrants should not be obliged to solemnise same-sex marriage.

“We also gave an assurance that all views will be listened to.”

She added: “I therefore welcome today’s meeting with the Catholic Church which gave me an opportunity to hear the Church’s views and concerns about the consultation, while also enabling me to repeat such assurances.”

Bishop Tartaglia wrote to first minister Alex Salmond earlier this month to warn that the consultation would lead to a “serious chill” between the government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Glasgow archbishop Mario Conti has written to all Scottish parishes to urge them to oppose the government’s marriage equality consultation.

He said that churches would “actively campaign” to block marriage rights for gay people and warned that the move would create “larger divisions” in society.