A series of emails falsely claiming to be sent from Catholic institutions have been denounced by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) as “offensive, unChristian and, in some cases, defamatory”.
The contents of the defamatory emails typically concern Cardinal George Pell’s convictions, the role of the complainant in his criminal trial, the spread of coronavirus pandemic and, in recent cases, the upcoming July 4 Eden-Monaro by-election.
Fr Stephen Hackett, ACBC general secretary, said: “It is deeply regrettable that a number of people are being maligned in these emails, which seem designed to attack Cardinal Pell, Witness J, the Catholic Church and now even politicians.”
“The views expressed in the emails we have seen do not in any way reflect the views of the Catholic Church, nor the organisations that are purported to have sent them.”
Computer experts said that the attackers had created fake email addresses using legitimate or seemingly legitimate domain names to give the impression that they were sent from Catholic parishes, dioceses and other Church organisations.
“This has been described as the equivalent of someone sending a letter in the post that is ‘signed’ in someone else’s name and contains a fake return address,” Fr Hackett said.
Catholic organisations affected by the emails have begun to take steps to prevent the attacks, though these measures are typically reliant on the spam email settings of recipients.
Fr Hackett added that the attacks “don’t meet the threshold for criminal investigation”, because no money or security details have been stolen, nor have Church databases or servers been compromised. But he concluded: “We, nevertheless, see this behaviour as harmful and criminal.”
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