The Archbishop-elect of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, has said he wishes he had ‘never alluded’ to the death of late gay MP David Cairns being linked to his sexuality when he spoke at a debate on religious freedom.

Due to be enthroned as an archbishop in early September, the Bishop of Paisley told the magazine of the Archdiocese, Flourish, he was sorry for the offence caused by his suggestion that the MP’s untimely death from acute pancreatitis was linked in some way to his homosexuality.

He had been speaking at the University of Oxford in April in response to a question by the ‘gay cure’ Christian psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington.

He said: “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. You’re right, Lesley, thank you.”

His comments came to light shortly after the Scottish government’s announcement that they will legislate to allow two people of the same sex to be married.

In media interviews, the Scottish Catholic Church’s spokesman Peter Kearney continued to claim there was “a link between same-sex sexual practice and early death”, saying there was an “overwhelming body of medical evidence” to corroborate his view.

Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie publicly called on Mr Kearney to substantiate the claim, following a similar call PinkNews.co.uk made in December 2011. Mr Kearney said he would respond by the end of last week but no reply has yet been received by Mr Harvie’s office.

Now, the Archbishop of Glasgow has told the archdiocesan paper he regretted the allusion to Mr Cairns, which the late MP’s partner said was “deeply painful” and which Labour leader Ed Miliband said was “wrong”.

In a front-page interview with the paper, he said: “Faith makes sense. It is Christ who inspires our hope and motivates our charity – and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.”

“When our beliefs and practices are routinely ridiculed, the instinct is to keep the head down. That’s understandable. But, when you consider that Christ is the answer to humanity’s deepest longings and points the way for society to progress, we betray our essential calling as Christians if we fail to acknowledge him.”

But, the new Archbishop continued: “I wish I had never alluded to Mr Cairns. I am very sorry for the offence it caused. I have made a sincere apology and hope that it is accepted.”

About defending what the paper called ‘Christian teaching in the public square’, he added: “I would hope we can have reasoned and robust discussions while speaking in a respectful and civilised manner.”

The paper said he had been “embarrassed by the furore caused by his unguarded remark” about Mr Cairns’ death, but did not identify what the Archbishop’s comment was or that Mr Cairns was gay.

On page 3 of the paper, the priest from the church in which Bishop Tartaglia was baptised wrote a comment piece praising the appointment.

Canon Robert Hill said: “Archbishop-elect Tartaglia has already spoken out strongly on current issues, most recently challenging the Scottish Government over the issue of same sex marriage. I hope we’ll hear his voice on many other topics.”

He added: “We need to hear messages that challenge, offer hope, consolation and good news. Bishops should be voices that proclaim a consistent message, whether welcome or unwelcome.”