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The Vatican and China: Lessons From John Paul II and Cuba

In October 1997, as Pope John Paul II prepared for a historic visit to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a once devoutly Catholic country that communists had subjected to a nasty war on religion, Vatican aides found a hidden microphone in the parish house where the Pope was scheduled to stay. The Vatican team made the discovery once it had gone ahead to Havana to help plan for the pontiff’s Jan. 21-25, 1998, visit.

According to the Madrid-based newspaper El Pais, Vatican aides were outraged by this betrayal and threatened to cancel the trip. The Polish Pope, for his part, was no doubt unsurprised. He had long dealt with far worse mischief from communists in his homeland. He was surely also unsurprised when Cuban officials laughably claimed that the microphone was an unnoticed leftover of the Batista era that had somehow eluded their previous inspection.

Such behavior was standard operating procedure for a communist regime.

I thought of this episode when learning of reports of espionage shenanigans against Pope Francis’ Vatican by the communist Chinese.

“The Vatican Is Said to Be Hacked From China Before Talks in Beijing,” stated the headline in The New York Times, echoing what other newspapers are reporting. Catholic News Agency reported:

“State-sponsored hackers have reportedly targeted Vatican computer networks in an attempt to give China an advantage in negotiations to renew a provisional deal with the Holy See.  

“A report, released July 28, said that hackers may have used a counterfeit condolence message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, to gain access to Vatican communications. 

“The report was compiled by the Insikt Group, the research arm of the U.S.-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future. Researchers said they had uncovered ‘a cyberespionage campaign attributed to a suspected Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group,’ which they referred to as RedDelta.”

According to investigators, RedDelta began targeting the Vatican and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong in early May. Additional Catholic targets included the Hong Kong Study Mission to China and the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Italy. These “network intrusions” took place ahead of sensitive talks to renew a “provisional agreement” between the Holy See and China. The controversial agreement was initially sealed in 2018, with an expiration date in September.

As the Insikt Group report noted, this suspected intrusion would provide RedDelta with crucial insight into the negotiating position of the Holy See ahead of the deal’s September 2020 renewal. Moreover, the targeting of the Hong Kong Study Mission and its Catholic diocese could also 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.”

Read more at National Catholic Register

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