To the many friends of the late David Cairns, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia’s comments about him will be beyond the pale. A reminder of what he told an audience at Magdalene College, Oxford, earlier this year:
“If what I have heard is true about the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society is being very quiet about it. 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.”
Where to start?
First of all (and this doesn’t really need stating at all), David died after a long and painful fight with acute pancreatitis. Had he been a straight man rather than a gay man, the illness would have caused just as much devastation to his body. So why didn’t His Grace know that? Why did he use the dreadful circumstances of David’s death as a prop to support his arguments that there is something morally wrong about homosexuality? We should be clear: the Archbishop didn’t know David Cairns. He may well have met David at some point (David met Pope John Paul a couple of times – quite the networker!) but he clearly knew nothing of him. So why use him as an example at all? Didn’t this man of God understand that his comments, unsupported by fact or reason, would prove hurtful to his friends and family?
The full text of my letter to the Archbishop is here. There’s just one thing I would like to have added to it, had the red mist not descended when I heard what he’d said about my friend, and I had taken a little more time to write it, and it’s this:
The Archbishop decries society for not discussing the “real” reasons for David’s (and other, unspecified, homosexual men’s) death. “Nobody said anything,” he told his audience.
Wrong. You just weren’t listening, Your Grace. Lots of us said plenty at the time. We spoke about David’s commitment – to his party and to his constituency. We spoke about his passion – for his partner, Dermot, and for his belief in politics as a force for change. We spoke about his loyalty, his compassion, his intelligence and his wit. We spoke of all these things, Your Grace, at a time when we all needed to be comforted in the wake of his terrible, pointless death.
No, we didn’t say the things you wanted to hear. But that’s because the things you wanted to hear, Your Grace, were not the truth.
Tom Harris is MP for Glasgow South and a Shadow Defra Minister