Leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics dies at 76

Distinguished churchman with trenchant views on Section 28, but who 'worked tirelessly to help the needy'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Thomas Winning, died yesterday after having a heart attack at his Glasgow home. He was 76.

Cardinal Winning courted controversy in recent years with outspoken comments on abortion, homosexuality and married priests.

He had been discharged from the city's Victoria Infirmary on Friday after being admitted on 8 June because of an earlier heart attack.

He had just eaten breakfast when his housekeeper found him unconscious on his bedroom floor. Despite efforts to resuscitate him at home and later at Victoria Infirmary, he was pronounced dead just before 10am.

Tributes were led by the Prime Minister and Scotland's First Minister, Henry McLeish, both of whose administrations had been frequently criticised by Cardinal Winning's famously sharp tongue.

Tony Blair said: "His strong moral leadership and commitment to social justice were renowned."

Mr McLeish said: "The nation will miss Tom Winning. I will miss him. Scotland has lost one of her greatest sons."

Praised as a "man of the people" by Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Winning's world view often reflected that of many in his flock. A hard upbringing in Scotland's industrial central belt fashioned a left-of-centre political outlook, which included support for asylum-seekers and a call for a more radical social policy.

But this contrasted with a deep conservatism on matters to do with the Church and personal morality ­ he once called homosexual acts "a perversion". Though he campaigned for a Scottish Parliament, the Cardinal became more outspoken on what he regarded as the politically correct agenda of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive at Holyrood. With the majority of Scotland's Catholics paying tribal allegiance to Labour, his trenchant views made him feared in the Scottish Parliament.

It was his opposition to the repeal of Section 28, the law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools, that brought him into open conflict with the Government. It led him to form an unlikely alliance with Brian Souter, an evangelical protestant and Stagecoach tycoon. His opposition to abortion was equally vehement and in 1997 he accused Tony Blair of gagging Labour MPs opposed to abortion.

He was thrust into the political limelight once again later that year when he set up a controversial scheme under which women were offered counselling and financial support if they agreed not to terminate their pregnancies. Though money flowed in from around the world, many of Scotland's more liberal Catholics voiced doubts about such a militant and high-profile stance.

Thomas Winning, who was Archbishop of Glasgow, became a cardinal in 1994 and his populist touch won him the admiration of the Pope. He was sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul II.

Despite a sizeable personal following, he never made any public declaration of interest and, when he became Britain's senior Roman Catholic on the death of Cardinal Basil Hume in 1999, he did little to assume the mantle.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said Cardinal Winning would be sorely missed. "He was a great Scot and a great Christian. I was proud to know him and his great achievements will be remembered for many years to come.

"He was a passionate opponent of poverty both in Britain and in the Third World."

The Secretary of State for Scotland, Helen Liddell, joined the tributes, saying she was "greatly saddened" by the death of the cardinal.

"He was a man of great vision and immense social conscience. As the first prince of the Catholic Church in Scotland, he was a well-liked and respected figure who strove throughout his life to improve the lives of all Scots. He was particularly concerned by the problems of poverty, and worked tirelessly to help those in most need. He will be sadly missed by Scots of all denominations."

David McLetchie, the leader of the Scottish Tories, said Cardinal Winning was one of the most eminent and distinguished churchmen Scotland has produced. "He was also a great moral leader, and a staunch advocate of the values and principles which should underpin our society."

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, said: "He was an outstanding leader of the Church in Scotland and beyond. His humour, dedication, utter loyalty and unstinting defence of the Catholic Church will long be remembered. I deeply mourn a close friend. Catholics in England and Wales will join with those in Scotland in prayer for the repose of the soul of a good shepherd and pastor. May he rest in peace."