The perpetrator and motives of the alleged hacker or hackers in this case remain unclear, though there is precedent for hacking groups targeting the Vatican because of public statements made by Pope Francis. For example, in 2015, a Turkish hacker took credit for hacking the Vatican’s website because Pope Francis referred in a homily to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks as a “genocide.”
In the present case, the apparent attack comes a day after Russian leaders criticized Pope Francis for comments he made about Russia’s war in Ukraine in a recent interview. In the interview, the pope described Ukraine as a “martyred people” and singled out two Russian ethnic minorities — Chechens and Buryati — as “generally the cruelest” in the conflict.
The Vatican’s aging main website has attracted other hackers, too. In 2012, the Italian branch of the activist hacking group Anonymous took down the Vatican’s website using a simple “denial of service” hacking method, whereby the site was artificially flooded with traffic in an attempt to overload it.
More recently, in 2020, Chinese state-sponsored hackers reportedly targeted Vatican computer networks and other Catholic targets in an attempt to give China an advantage in negotiations at that time to renew a provisional deal with the Holy See.
Experts have accused Russia of using hacking, cyberwarfare, and disinformation in its present conflict with Ukraine, and in addition, Russia has a history of targeting Catholic entities with its hacks. In 2018, reports emerged that Russian hackers had infiltrated the email inboxes of Orthodox, Catholic, and other religious leaders connected to Ukraine.
Courtney Mares contributed to this story.