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Story highlights

Bannon: "They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration"

Bannon, a Catholic, downplayed the church's opinions on DACA

(CNN) —  

Former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon said the Catholic Church’s support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, is economically driven and owes to the church’s struggle to fill pews.

“To come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it,” Bannon said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired in full Sunday night. “They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration.”

DACA protects undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children from deportation. The Trump administration formally announced Tuesday that it is ending the Obama-era program, but it would wait six months before stopping the renewal of permits for protectees in order to give Congress time to decide their fate.

In the interview, Bannon said he thought the program should be abolished, adding that delaying such action will only heighten Republican rifts over the program and foment disunity going into next year’s midterm elections.

“I’m worried about losing the House now because of this … because of DACA,” Bannon said. “And my fear is that with this six months down range, if we have another huge – if this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013. And to me, doing that in the springboard of primary season for 2018 is extremely unwise.”

Bannon, a Catholic, downplayed the church’s opinions on DACA in the interview, arguing that they carry little weight and saying the church was “just another guy with an opinion.”

“As much as I respect Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine. This is not doctrine at all. I totally respect the Pope and I totally respect the Catholic bishops and cardinals on doctrine. This is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation,” Bannon said.

Dolan responded to Bannon’s comments about the Catholic Church on SiriusXM on Thursday, calling them “preposterous” and “rather insulting.”

“That’s insulting and that’s just so ridiculous that it doesn’t merit a comment,” he said, adding that the principle of caring for immigrants “comes from the Bible itself.”

“The Bible is so clear, so clear that to treat the immigrant with dignity and respect, to make sure that society is just in the treatment of the immigrant, is biblical mandate,” he said.

On Tuesday, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called the repeal of DACA “unacceptable” in a statement.

DACA debate could send a political shockwave through 2018 and beyond

“The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home,” the statement read.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at American Magazine, a Catholic publication, criticized Bannon’s comments as containing flawed logic.

“Actually welcoming the stranger is Catholic doctrine, Mr. Bannon. This is is from Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical “Populorum Progressio,” he tweeted Thursday, linking to the passage.

Trump fired Bannon mid-August amid a reshuffling of power within his administration. He has since returned to his role as executive chairman at Breitbart News.

CNN’s Jenny Hansler, David Wright, Tal Kopan and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.