The former chief operating officer of Catholic Charities has blasted the group's decision to end spousal health coverage to avoid offering benefits to gay couples, the Washington Post reported.

The social services arm of the Archdiocese of Washington announced just days before a District of Columbia gay marriage law went into effect that it would alter its health coverage to exclude spouses.

Tim Sawina, who left the organization last July after a 12 year career, called the move “wrong.”

“Some, including the archbishop, have argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we are somehow legitimizing gay marriage,” Sawina said in a letter to the governing boards of Catholic Charities. “Providing health care to a gay or lesbian partner – a basic human right, according to Church teaching – is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism.”

The church had lobbied heavily for an exception to the law, at one point threatening to walk away from providing thousands of people in the District with social services – including feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless – if lawmakers approved Independent Councilman David Catania's gay marriage bill.

“This change is the direct result of not receiving an adequate exemption for religious organizations in the same-sex marriage legislation,” church officials said in a March 1 statement. The approach allows Catholic Charities “to remain faithful to our Catholic identity,” officials said.

In addition to cutting off spousal benefit to all new applicants, the social service organization also ended its foster care program rather than serve gay couples.

Sawina also argued that the move to end spousal benefits handicaps the group's recruitment efforts.

“More importantly, the greatest asset of the agency – its staff – feel a profound sense of humiliation and shame. Many are actively looking to leave,” he said. “Catholic Charities will be forever handicapped in attracting new staff with such a draconian benefit plan.”

In responding to Sawina's letter, church spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said that Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl's decision to cut spousal benefits has the overwhelming support of the board.

DC's gay marriage law went into effect Wednesday. More than 100 couples applied for a marriage license on the law's first day, the AP reported. But processing time and a mandatory waiting period mean the first gay marriage won't take place until Tuesday, at the earliest.