(Source: MJ/Oleg Burunov, Sputnik)

In 2018, Pope Francis announced a deal that cleared the way for the reappointment of bishops in China, something that the Vatican described as “a question of great importance for the life” of the Catholic Church.

But the Massachusetts-based cybersecurity firm Recorded Future has claimed that the Vatican’s computer networks were recently compromised by Chinese hackers, who targeted “organisations that heavily align to China’s strategic interests”. 

In a report on Tuesday, Recorded Future argued that the hacking group RedDelta targeted the Vatican, the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Study Mission to China, and the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Italy between early May and 21 July.

The report said that “the suspected intrusion into the Vatican would offer RedDelta insight into the negotiating position of the Holy See ahead of [the 2018 China-Catholic Church] deal’s September 2020 renewal”.

Referring to the hackers’ penetrating the Hong Kong Study Mission and its Catholic diocese, the document suggested it could “provide a valuable intelligence source for both monitoring the diocese’s relations with the Vatican and its position on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement amidst widespread protests and the recent sweeping Hong Kong national security law”.

The law, which was earlier introduced by Beijing, bans all treasonous activities and actions, aimed at dividing the country, on the territory of Hong Kong. It was condemned by the opposition in Hong Kong, as well as Western officials, who claim that it will undermine the city’s autonomy guaranteed during its transition from the UK to China.

Recorded Future also asserted that one of the hacking attacks included a fake letter delivered to the current head of the Hong Kong Study Mission to China in connection with the death of a Chinese Catholic bishop.

The 2018 China-Catholic Church deal stipulates the Vatican recognising Catholic bishops operating in China and setting new rules for their reappointment.

The agreement came as a part of President Xi Jinping’s programme of “sinicising” religious practices in China, which only recognises five religions, including Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism.

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, however, the Vatican cut ties with Beijing two years after the establishment of the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1949. The Vatican was also one of 17 nation-states to recognise Taiwan as the Republic of China, separate from the mainland.

Pope Francis has sought to improve relations with China since he became the head of the Catholic Church in 2013, but China has repeatedly declined the Pontiff’s overtures, insisting that the Vatican should give up its recognition of Taiwan and promise not to interfere in mainland China’s domestic affairs.

More stories on Novena on Vatican diplomacy:

September 2019: Chinese spies tried to disrupt secret far-right Catholic meet in Portugal

China spread Hong Kong, Vatican propaganda at secret far-right Catholic meet in Portugal


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.