ROME — Hackers tied to the Chinese government infiltrated the Vatican’s computer networks in recent months according to a report Tuesday from the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.
The attacks began in early May as the Vatican and Beijing prepare to sit down in September to discuss a sharing of control over the naming of bishops in the country.
In September 2018, the Vatican and China signed a secret “provisional” agreement regarding the appointment of bishops, the details of which were never revealed. The two parties are due to re-negotiate the controversial deal this September.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has come under fire from human rights groups for its ongoing persecution of Christians and Uighur Muslims and for its use of advanced surveillance techniques to control its citizens.
Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) conducted a virtual hearing on “the Chinese government’s use of surveillance and data analytic technology to oppress religious groups” and how the U.S. government should respond to this latest attack on religious freedom.
The Chinese government has created “an Orwellian surveillance state with an unprecedented ability to gather private information about its citizens,” which it is now using to monitor Christians, the group reported.
Chinese communist authorities have also ordered poor Christian villagers to remove Christian images from their homes and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping or risk losing their welfare benefits, Breitbart News reported earlier this month.
As part of its program of “Sinicization,” the CCP has sought to channel religious fervor in the country toward the Party rather than God and is now using state welfare benefits as leverage to achieve its aim.
In April, for example, officials visited the homes of Christians in Linfen, in the northern province of Shanxi, and ordered those who receive government welfare payments to remove crosses, Christian symbols, and images in their homes and replace them with portraits of China’s communist leaders.
The officials warned the Christians that failure to comply with the order would result in suspension of their welfare subsidies.
For its part, the Vatican has been engaged in a charm offensive with Beijing in the hope of establishing full diplomatic ties with China.
Veteran Vatican journalist John L. Allen, Jr. wrote in May that the Vatican is “covetous of a relationship with China, and often apparently willing to stifle objections and give away a great deal” in order to make it happen.
In short, “the Vatican is moving full-steam ahead in its courtship of Beijing, with the ultimate prize remaining full diplomatic relations, a secure legal standing for the church, and partnerships on the global stage,” Allen wrote.
Pope Francis himself has studiously avoided criticizing Beijing, even for its most egregious violations of human rights. On the contrary, he has defended the communist government’s record on religious freedom, insisting that “churches are full.”
Meanwhile, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, has declared in a reality-defying moment that the CCP has created the best model for living out Catholic social teaching today.