By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

BRASILIA, BrazilL, February 8, 2008 ( – After a shaky start, the Catholic bishops of Brazil have launched a national campaign against abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research that newspapers are calling a “major offensive” against the culture of death.

The opening event of the campaign, “Fraternity and the Defense of Life”, was attended by leaders of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB), as well as high-ranking government officials from socialist president Luiz Lula’s cabinet, on February 6th.

At the event, the CNBB General Secretary read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the CNBB’s president, Geraldo Lyrio Rocha, stating that “all threats to life should be combated,” and expressing hope that “the institutions of civil society will wish to join in solidarity with the will of the people, the majority of whom reject everything that is contrary to the ethical demands of justice and respect for human life from its beginning until its natural end.”

In a sign of serious commitment to the pro-life cause, CNBB General Secretary Dimas Lara Barbosa made it clear that the Campaign’s purpose was not merely to prevent the passage of legislation that would loosen restrictions on abortion, but also to eliminate the existing cases in which abortion is decriminalized in Brazil.

“It’s on the horizon, as the second step, to struggle to revoke the legal permission for abortion in the cases that are already permitted,” said Dimas Lara.

According to Dimas Lara, the “Fraternity and Defense of Life” campaign will distribute folders containing pro-life material to every Catholic parish in almost six thousand municipalities in Brazil.  He also said that the CNBB would be confronting various government officials, as well as NGOs, for “manipulating information” in their defense of abortion.

He added that in the second half of the year, the bishops intended to bring together organizations from across Latin America in a massive pro-life meeting.

“The defense of life is non-negotiable,” said Dimas Lara.

In a sign of respect for the influence of the Catholic Church in Brazil, president Luiz Lula sent his cabinet secretary Gilberto Carvalho, as well as his secretary of justice, Romeu Tuma Júnior, to the opening event.  Although Lula claims to be pro-life, his health minister is avowedly pro-abortion, and Lula’s own behavior has led pro-lifers to conclude that he is pro-abortion as well.

However, Lula’s administration seems to fear the influence of Church authorities, whose pro-life sentiments are generally shared by the Brazilian people.  Even Lula’s pro-abortion secretary of health, José Gomes Temporão, who was conspicuously absent from the event, spoke carefully about the bishops’ campaign.  “I think it’s important that the topic continue being debated and the Church is a good place for that to happen,” he told the publication Correio da Bahia.

The bishops’ effort to instruct the public on human life issues is this year’s version of their annual “Fraternity Campaign”, which has a different theme every year.  However, the pro-life theme for 2008 is a major departure from less-controversial themes of previous campaigns, which have focused on more general social issues such as youth and family, social justice, and highway safety.

The campaign encountered serious controversy before it even began this year, when a DVD was issued with the CNBB’s “Fraternity Campaign” emblem that contained a sympathetic interview with “Catholics for a Free Choice,” a group that promotes abortion in Brazil while claiming to be Catholic.  After complaints were made to the CNBB, the DVD was reissued without the offending material – and without explanation (see recent LifeSiteNews coverage at

However, with the passing of the controversy, the bishops of Brazil seem to be supporting this year’s pro-life campaign with an uncharacteristic vigor.  In recent years they have appeared very reticent to speak out against the socialist government’s pro-abortion and pro-homosexual policies, with a few notable exceptions.

The intensity of the new campaign may be in part due to the continuing threat of pro-abortion legislation, which has made some progress in the Brazilian Congress in recent months, and which has galvanized pro-lifers in the country.  It may also be a response to heavy criticism received recently from Catholics and other pro-lifers, such as the Brazilian philosophy professor Olavo de Calvalho, who complained bitterly in a January newspaper column about the bishops’ ongoing association with pro-abortion groups (see text at