The Scottish Catholic has uncovered an elaborate scheme involving fake Facebook accounts and a banned Chinese sect.
Scottish Catholics have been urged to ‘verify everything’ they encounter online after a Facebook account impersonated a religious sister to gain their trust online.
It’s one of dozens of Facebook accounts that have been inviting Scottish and Irish Catholics to take part in an online prayer group. The Scottish Catholic has spoken to eight people contacted in this way.
The prayer group is led by Sr Oliva S Leung, who claims to be a Franciscan Missionary of Mary from Hong Kong, now living in Milan.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary have no record of any such nun and say they have no knowledge of her.
Instead, Sr Olivia has been posting material promoting the Church of Almighty God, a dissident Chinese religious sect that has been banned by the Chinese government.
When confronted Sr Oliva said ‘it doesn’t matter if I’m a nun or not, only that I’m leading people to God’.
A core belief of Church of Almighty God, also known as the Church of Eastern Lightning is that Jesus Christ has been reincarnated as a middle-aged Chinese woman called Lightning Deng, who now lives in Chinatown in New York.
They also say the righteous are engaged in an apocalyptic struggle against China’s Communist Party – which they refer to as the ‘great red dragon’.
The Chinese Government has blamed them for kidnappings, violence, and extortion, the group has been listed among 14 banned religious groups by China’s Ministry of Public Security since 1995.
Many members have since fled China and communicate primarily online.
Emily Dunn, author of Lightning from the East one of the few books about the group, said she had heard of ‘a few similar instances’.
“Certainly, the overseas base is quite tech- savvy, as you can tell from their flashy web- sites and social media,” she said.
“Of course, they don’t see such practices as ‘trickery’ but rather a wise strategy in the face of persecution from other Christians and in China, from the Chinese authorities.”
In this instance, the prayer groups, with names like Catholic Catechism 101, appear to be an attempt to lure Catholics into a space that seems authentically Catholic.
The material shared in the groups quickly diverges from Catholic teaching with participants asked to affirm Jesus has already returned.
The accounts that have been approaching Catholics often use avatars of white women in their twenties and thirties who are wearing glasses, with generic names like Diane Clarke and Helen Rose. They post large amounts of religious content and use slightly broken English.
Ian Hawarth of the Cult Information Centre said groups like this were using social media more and more.
“Particularly during the pandemic, we saw a switch to approaches online,” he said.
“These groups still want to get someone in a room to use mind control techniques on them, but social media contact is the first step. People need to be a lot more streetwise and discerning.”
Jeff Jimenez, who runs Halo Cyber Security in Texas and specialises in advising Catholic families and organisations on how to protect themselves online.
“Verify everything if you’re approached by someone you don’t know online,” he said.
“Don’t take it on trust and be very wary of any links they send you.”
Caption – An image of the Facebook account of Olivia S Leung.