A group of influential Catholics have said that cyber attackers from China have targeted their petition opposing a potential deal between the Vatican and the Chinese government.

A statement said that, since Wednesday afternoon, their petition website had been under a distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack, and the internet protocol addresses of the attackers pointed to Tianjin, China. The page resumed normal operations at around 12:30pm on Thursday.

“We will not be cowed into silence by such [an] attack, and we will never stop voicing out for the Church,” the statement said, as it condemned “cowardly acts.”

Catholic petition
Photo: Screenshot.

“Please join the petition, and continue to pray for the persecuted Church in China.”

China and Vatican are reportedly close to a deal over the appointment of bishops after several years of negotiation.

Fifteen major Catholic figures wrote to bishops across the world saying that the Chinese government should play no part in the selection of bishops. The petitioners said that the moral integrity of the seven “illicitly ordained” Chinese bishops was “questionable.”

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,600 people had signed the petition.

While the Vatican maintains the global right to appoint bishops, Beijing has appointed its own through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) – the country’s party-controlled official church. China has also been destroying crosses and churches across the country.

If a deal is reached, it could lead to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1951. The agreement is also expected to give recognition to seven Beijing-appointed bishops in what would be a significant concession on the part of the Holy See in its long-running standoff with the Communist Party.

Peter Zhuang Jianjian Guo Xijin
Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou and Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong. Photo: Stand News.

Two underground Chinese bishops, Guo Xijin of Mindong and Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, were asked by a top Vatican diplomat to resign in favour of state-sanctioned prelates, including one who was excommunicated by the Vatican in 2011.

Guo told the New York Times in an interview that he will obey Rome’s decision if he was presented with a verifiable, authentic document from the Vatican.

But Zhuang reportedly did not accept the request and wrote a letter to Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen to pass on to the Vatican and the Pope.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.