A U.S.-based cybersecurity company warned of attacks on the Vatican and the Hong Kong Diocese backed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) while talks were underway to renew an agreement that in 2018 helped thaw diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the CCP.

The Massachusetts-based Recorded Future reported Tuesday, July 28, that attacks by the hacker group RedDelta had been going on since May and were focusing on upcoming September talks regarding the appointment of bishops and the status of churches in China, The Hill reported.

“The suspected intrusion into the Vatican would offer RedDelta insight into the negotiating position of the Holy See ahead of the deal’s September 2020 renewal,” Recorded Future said.

“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,” he added.

The report was released just as the CCP is increasing pressure and control over religious groups within the country.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any connection with the cyberattack and said the report was only “unfounded speculation.”

As Fox News pointed out, the estimated 12 million Catholics in China are divided between those linked to the regime-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is outside the authority of the pope, and an underground church loyal to the Vatican whose priests and parishioners often suffer arbitrary detention.

By 2018, the Holy See and the CCP stipulated an agreement for seven bishops linked to the Chinese Patriotic Church to be recognized by the pope, ending decades of estrangement between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican, a move that is causing consternation among the Catholic faithful in China.

As the BBC reported, since 1951, the CCP and the Vatican do not share diplomatic ties, so many Catholics in China were forced to go underground during the regime of the communist dictator Mao Zedong, who was responsible for severely attacking spiritual and/or religious movements throughout the country.

Therefore, those who profess the Catholic faith in China must do so under the guidelines of the Chinese Patriotic Association, which has considerably suppressed the dogma of the Catholic religion replacing it with the power of the Chinese Communist Party.

Currently there are about 100 Catholic bishops in China, some approved by Beijing, some approved by the Vatican and informally many now approved by both.

Benedict, an underground Catholic in northern China, told Asian News, “I ask the Holy Father not to renew the agreement with China [the CCP] because this could threaten the survival of the Church in China, leading us to despair,” he said of the situation of the underground Christians.

As Fox News pointed out, for some of China’s underground faithful they have deep reservations about the agreement, seeing it as a sale to the Party and a betrayal of their long-standing loyalty to the pope.