CHICAGO (CBS) — Accused of using immigrants as “pawns in a political battle” over same-sex marriage, Cardinal Francis George defended the decision to halt Catholic Church funding for immigrant rights groups that support gay marriage.

WBBM Newsradio’s Terry Keshner reports the Catholic Campaign for Human Development – the Catholic Church’s anti-poverty program in the U.S. – has withdrawn financial support for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, after the group voiced support for same-sex marriage.

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On Monday, the cardinal responded to an open letter signed by a group of Catholic elected officials and community leaders, urging the church to reverse that decision.

“You can’t play off the pastoral concern of the church for the poor against the church’s teaching,” George said. “That’s exactly what was done, that’s a cynical move, and I’m sorry that it was done.”

CCHD had provided grants to several members of the immigrant rights coalition, but its funding agreements prohibit the groups it funds from pursuing an agenda contrary to the church’s teachings – which includes opposition to gay marriage.

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When the church learned of ICIRR’s support for same-sex marriage, CCHD pulled all future funding for members of the coalition unless they renounce support for gay marriage.

The cardinal said ICIRR changed its stance, not the church.

“The church is consistent, over many years – ten years and more – in our concern for immigrants, and just immigration reform, and that will continue,” he said. “The CCHD has been consistent in its concern for the poor.”

A group of Catholic elected officials and other local leaders has signed an open letter urging the church not to halt funding for ICIRR and other groups that support same-sex marriage, accusing church leaders of using “immigrants and those who seek to help them as pawns in a political battle.”

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Those who signed the letter include Chicago Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Danny Solis (25th), Patrick O’Connor (40th), and James Cappelman (46th); Cook County Commissioners John Fritchey (D-12th) and Larry Suffredin (D-13th); and Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza.