The new Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia is to meet the partner of an MP he suggested died prematurely because he was gay.
He had been speaking at the University of Oxford at a debate on religious freedom and was speaking in response to a question by Christian psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington.
The Archbishop-elect did not mention the former Scotland Office minister by name, but said: “If what I have heard is true about the relationship between physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society has been very quiet about it.
“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 which would have killed anyone, but you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing. But society won’t address it.”
A spokesman said the comments had been taken out of context. He added: “The Archbishop knew David Cairns, met him regularly at events in Inverclyde, and was personally involved in his funeral arrangements.”
The Archbishop-elect “sorry for any hurt that has resulted” from the suggestion Mr Cairns had died prematurely because he was gay.
Dermot Kehoe, Mr Cairns’ partner of 15 years, said it was “deeply painful” and had added to the “grief and pain” both of him and of Mr Cairns’ family.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “I think, knowing the circumstances of what actually happened to David, [Bishop Tartaglia] will recognise that his comments were wrong.”
The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the comments were “deeply wrong, shocking and distressing”.
Reported in the Scotsman, 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.”
The spokesman said Bishop Tartaglia “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.”