By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, Latin America Correspondent

BRAZIL, October 8, 2010 ( – Brazilian President Luiz Lula’s personal secretary, Gilberto Carvalho, yesterday warned the leadership of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops that if attacks against Labor Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff continue, the Catholic Church’s agreement with the government might be revised, according to a report that originated with the Valor Economico newspaper, and was repeated by the Italian news agency ANSA.

The agreement, known as a “concordat,” is a type of treaty signed by the government of Vatican City and various governments worldwide. The Brazilian concordat includes government support of Catholic schools and other benefits, which were awarded to the Catholic Church in Brazil in 2009.

Rousseff’s candidacy has been opposed by many Catholic bishops and priests because of her clear position in favor of eliminating criminal penalties for abortion, which is condemned by Catholic teaching as an “unspeakable crime.”

Today, following the report of the threat, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (CNBB) issued a statement distancing itself from condemnations of Rousseff and the Brazilian Labor Party, while continuing to call on voters to make their decision in light of the values of human life and family.

The leadership of the CNBB writes that “we profoundly lament that the name of the CNBB – and of the Catholic Church itself – has been inappropriately used throughout the campaign, being the object of manipulation.”

The CNBB goes on to add that “we reaffirm … that the CNBB does not endorse any candidate, and we recall that the choice is a free and conscious act of every citizen. Faced with such a great responsibility, we exhort the Catholic faithful to keep in mind ethical criteria, among which are included especially the unconditional respect for life, the family, religious liberty, and human dignity.”

The CNBB’s statement also affirms that “certainly, it is the right – and even the obligation – of every bishop, in his diocese, to guide his own flock, above all with regard to matters respecting the faith and Christian morality,” in an apparent acknowledgment of statements made by prominent Catholic leaders in Brazil, including the head of the CNBB’s first southern division, who denounced the candidacy of Rousseff in videos published on YouTube in late September in the name of all of the divisions’ member bishops.

A well-known Catholic priest who broadcasts on the network New Song (Canção Novo) also recently gave a sermon in which he denounced the ruling Labor Party as pro-abortion, homosexualist, and Marxist, and said that he would never vote for them or perform a homosexual “marriage.” The Labor Party is now demanding equal time on the Catholic channel for Rousseff’s campaign to respond to the charges made against her.

Although Rousseff claims to be personally “against abortion,” she continues to call it an “issue of public health,” and has not retracted her previously stated position in favor of eliminating criminal penalties for killing the unborn.