Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said China’s hacking of Vatican computers should warn Church leaders the nation’s communist government is not to be trusted.
Speaking with Crux, a U.S.-based online Catholic news outlet, Ambassador Brownback said he really hopes “that the Vatican would look at this and see what they are dealing with,” in reference to revelations this week that hackers tied to the Chinese government had infiltrated the Vatican’s computer networks beginning last May.
“If I were a Vatican official and seeing this is who I am dealing with, and this is how they are going to deal with me, it would cause me great pause to think about how can I trust and work with these other individuals that are spying on me,” Brownback said said.
As Breitbart News reported Wednesday, the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Recorded Future revealed Chinese hackers had targeted the Vatican and the Holy See’s Study Mission to China — a group of Hong Kong-based Vatican diplomats who have been negotiating with Beijing over the Church’s status in China.
The attacks came just as the Vatican and Beijing prepare to sit down in September to renegotiate a 2018 secret “provisional” agreement regarding the appointment of bishops in China.
Crux noted that Mr. Brownback was sanctioned by the Chinese government earlier this month — along with Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Congressman Chris Smith — for his vocal criticism of human rights abuses in the country.
Brownback said he takes the reprimand as a “badge of honor,” since he received it for “declaring and pointing out the war on faith that the Chinese Communist Party is doing.”
The fact there is “so much religious persecution of all types going on in China” should be of particular concern to the Vatican, Brownback said.
“I would really hope that the Vatican officials would look at this and say, this is not a group that can be trusted for us to negotiate and work with, with how they are operating today,” he said.
“It’s a full-scale attack on all faiths,” he said.
Ambassador Brownback had previously expressed his skepticism over the Vatican’s deal with Beijing, suggesting that the Church had handed over too much while getting little back in return.
Without knowing precise details of the accord, Brownback said in March 2019 that Communist Party officials evidently can exert “some measure of control” over the Catholic Church in China because of the agreement.
“It’s control of it through the leadership,” he said.
In a speech delivered in Hong Kong, Brownback suggested that “only individuals whom the party deems loyal to its interests” would be able to become bishops, an arrangement that would necessarily advance the regime’s “war on faith.”
“A religious group should be allowed to pick its own leaders, period,” Brownback said. “And now you have the Chinese government inserting itself in this.”
Because of its interest in galvanizing diplomatic relations with Beijing, the Vatican has been reluctant to criticize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) even for its most egregious attacks on religious freedom. It has, rather, sought to woo Beijing in the hope of establishing full diplomatic ties with China.
Last May, Vatican journalist John L. Allen, Jr. wrote that the Vatican is “apparently willing to stifle objections and give away a great deal” in order to persuade the CCP to accept it as a diplomatic partner.
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.