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Pols to Cardinal George: Don’t use immigrants as ‘pawns’ in same-sex marriage debate

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 30, 2013 6:55AM

Local political leaders have signed an open letter urging Cardinal Francis George not to halt church funding for immigrant-rights groups that support same-sex marriage.

Last month, Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reported the Catholic Church was upset over a statement the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights issued in May supporting “marriage equality” for same-sex partners. Cardinal George has opposed legislation in Springfield that would legalize gay marriage.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has provided grants to several members of the immigrant-rights coalition. Their funding agreements prohibit them from pursuing an agenda contrary to Roman Catholic teaching. The archdiocese has the final say on approving the grants.

When church officials learned of the immigrant-rights coalition’s position on gay marriage, they contacted the grant recipients and told them to forget about future funding unless they withdrew from the coalition and renounced its gay-marriage position.

Politicians and other community leaders are responding with a strongly worded open letter to Cardinal George and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“We write to you as loyal and proud Catholics to urge in the strongest possible terms that you rescind this threat,” the letter says. “This action is not worthy of the church we know, love and respect.”

The letter accuses church leaders of deciding to use “immigrants and those who seek to help them as pawns in a political battle.”

Those who signed the letter include Cook County Commissioners John Fritchey and Larry Suffredin; Chicago aldermen James Cappleman (46th), Patrick O’Connor (40th), Proco “Joe” Moreno, and Danny Solis (25th); City Clerk Susana Mendoza; and retired Cook County Judge Maureen Durkin Roy.

“You often run into conflicts when politics and religion intersect,” Fritchey said Sunday. “The letter simply reflects our position that a fundamental tenet of Catholicism is compassion. I don’t think anybody would suggest that compassion is something that should be used as a hammer to accomplish other philosophical goals.”

“I’ve known Cardinal George for a long time,” Fritchey said. “I believe he wants to do the right thing and I’d like to believe that punishing innocent people in need perhaps isn’t the best way to enforce his particular beliefs with respect to marriage equality.”

Suffredin said he signed the letter because “I was really concerned about the threat to these organizations.”

Immigrant-rights coalition members that received money from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the 2012-2013 grant year include Latino Union, Resurrection Project, United African Organization, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, ARISE Chicago, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Interfaith Leadership Project and Most Blessed Trinity.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago said she couldn’t comment on the letter because she hadn’t seen it. A representative of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights didn’t return calls.

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