Archbishop of Glasgow: Labour MP David Cairns died because he was gay

To suggest that Cairns died of anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

Catholic bishop Philip Tartaglia hasn't even taken up his new post as Archbishop of Glasgow yet, but he's already facing calls for his resignation. It's emerged that in a recent speech (11 April) at a religious conference at Oxford University he accused society of being "very quiet" about "the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men". He went on to suggest that the premature death of Labour MP David Cairns last year was partly due to his homosexuality.

Tartaglia said (fast forward to 1:03:29 for the comments):

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 who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything, and why should his body 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 anger at 'hurtful and ignorant' comments, this kind of thing, but society won't address it.

In fact, as was reported at the time of his death, Cairns died of pancreatitis, an illness that, like all others, afflicts homosexuals and heterosexuals alike (although perhaps Tartaglia, a la Brass Eye, distinguishes between "good aids" and "bad aids"). The suggestion from Tartaglia, a vociferous opponent of gay marriage, appears to be that "being gay can kill you". In his defence, Tartaglia would point out that he was responding to a question about the recent suicide of a gay author in the US. But to move from this to suggest that Cairns's death was due to anything other than pancreatitis is as bizarre as it is insulting.

One is reminded of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir's notorious column on the death of Stephen Gately, in which she wrote:

Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. 

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.

And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

Cairns's partner, Dermot Kehoe, who was in a relationship with the former Scotland Office minister for almost 15 years, told the Scotsman:

This is genuinely very upsetting and painful for David's family and friends.

I can't believe that someone who claims to be a man of God and is seeking to give moral leadership should speak from such a position of ignorance.

I don't care what his views on gay marriage are, but to bring in my dead partner to justify those views is wrong.

PoliticsHome's Paul Waugh reports that Ed Miliband, who is in Scotland today, is also expected to respond. Let us hope so, and that Tartaglia's grotesque comments are condemned by all parties.

Archbishop of Glasgow-elect Philip Tartaglia.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Reuters/New Statesman composite.
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When it comes to social media, we all have a responsibility to avoid sharing upsetting images

If Twitter is the new journalism, we are all editors – and responsible for treating our fellow humans with dignity.

“I wish I hadn’t seen that”, my colleague says from across the desk. It’s been an hour since the first reports came in of a shooting outside Parliament, and the news agency Reuters has started posting photographs of injured people, knocked down by the terrorist as he drove across Westminster Bridge.

In one, a brunette woman leans over a victim whose blood is beginning to stain the wet pavement. Lying on her back, she is framed by scattered postcards sold for tourists which have been knocked to the floor. She is clutching the arm of the woman helping her, but her eyes are staring dead into the photographer’s lens.

Another photograph – the one that my colleague is referring to – disturbs me even more: a man who has fallen (or been pushed?) off the bridge onto a stairwell. He is face down in a pool of blood, his left leg at an unnatural angle. It is impossible to tell if he is alive or not.

Briefly, before I scroll past, I wonder if someone, somewhere is seeing the same picture and experiencing a shock of recognition as they recognise their friend’s clothes.

And then there is one picture which I now cannot find on Twitter, but which, lying in bed last night, I could not stop thinking of: a woman’s legs extended from under the wheel of a bus, her skirt hiked up to show her underwear, her shoes missing.

We are a desk of journalists covering an attack on the Houses of Parliament, so I keep scrolling. It is only later, in an article by the Telegraph, that I learn a junior doctor has declared the woman dead.

Of course, the shock of seeing images like these is nothing compared to what war reporters, doctors or police go through on a regular basis. But a 2015 study at the University of Toronto found that extended exposure to violent or disturbing material can have a severe effect on journalists’ mental health.

The impact can be particularly confusing when one does not anticipate seeing violence.On social media, we increasingly encounter images this way: without warning and without a chance to steel ourselves. This is particularly a problem when it comes to members of the public, whose jobs don’t require them to look at shocking material but who can nevertheless be exposed to it just by virtue of using a social media network.

It is for this reason that, shortly after Reuters published their photographs of the Westminster victims, prominent journalists began posting asking their colleagues not to retweet them. Some protested the fact that Reuters had published them at all.

In today’s media landscape, news moves fast and social media faster. Where a picture editor would have previously had until their print deadline to decide which images to run, now photographers are able to send their work back to the office almost instantaneously, and editors must make a snap decision about what to release.

Deciding what images to use can be a difficult call – especially under pressure. On the one hand, there is the urge to not turn away, to bear witness to the full magnitude of what has happened, even if it is shocking and upsetting. On the other, there is the need to treat fellow human beings with dignity, and particularly to avoid, where possible, showing images of victims whose families have not yet been informed.

Social media makes this process even more difficult. Once released online, photographs of the Westminster attack were quickly saved and re-posted by private individuals, stripped of context or warning. One can choose not to follow the Reuters Pictures account, but one cannot necessarily avoid seeing an image once it is being retweeted, reposted and recycled by private accounts.

As the line between traditional news and social media blurs and we increasingly become participants in the news, as well as consumers of it, our sense of responsibility also shifts. On Twitter, we are our own editors, each charged with making sure we extend dignity to our fellow humans, even – especially – when the news is dramatic and fast-moving.

I was glad, this morning, to encounter fewer and fewer photographs – to not see the girl lying under the bus again. But at 3am last night, I thought about her, and about her family; about them knowing that journalists on desks across Britain had seen up their loved one’s skirt during the last moments of her life. It was, without putting too fine a point on it, no way to encounter a fellow human being.

Over the next few days, we will find out more about who the victims were. The media will release images of them in happier times, tell us about their jobs and careers and children – as is already happening with Keith Palmer, the policeman who we now know died on the Parliamentary Estate.

It is those images which I hope will be shared: not just as a way to resist fear, but as a way of acknowledging them as more than victims – of forging a different connection, based not in horror and voyeurism, but in a small moment of shared humanity.

There is no shame in being affected by graphic images, however removed one “ought” to feel. If you would like someone to talk to, Mind can provide details of local services.

The BBC also provides advice for those upset by the news.

Find out how to turn off Twitter image previews here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland