March 7th, 2012
02:41 PM ET
By Amber Lyon, Eric Marrapodi and Hada Messia, CNN
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed to CNN the site was hacked, but said it would be "fully operational" again shortly.
Anonymous, a loosely-knit international hacking group, claimed responsibility for the church website shutdown.
"Anonymous has now decided to lay siege to your site in response to the doctrines, liturgies and the precepts, absurd and anachronistic, that your organization, (which) is for profit, propagates and spreads worldwide," a statement in Italian on the blog "ufficiale di Anonymous Italia" read.
"This is NOT intended to attack the Christian religion or against the faithful around the world, but to the corrupt Roman Apostolic Church and all its emanations," the statement added.
A longtime follower of Anonymous who is in touch with the hackers involved and who has knowledge of the plan told CNN that hackers within Anonymous Italy and AntiSec were responsible for shutdown of the church website. AntiSec Anons describe themselves as the "special forces" of the collective.
The source confirmed the statement on the Italian hacker's website.
"It's not a personal attack on Christians, just on the Vatican itself," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their identity from the group.
Anonymous Italy also cited the Catholic Church's teachings on birth control and abortion and the way it handled widespread sexual abuse scandals as other reasons for the hacking.
The U.S. arm of the Anonymous hacking group has targeted government agencies and corporations before, and religious organizations including the Church of Scientology and Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged protests at funerals of American service members. The Anonymous group claimed responsibility for hacking into an FBI phone call with the agency's Irish counterparts, and for cyberstrikes between December 2010 and June 2011 that included denial-of-service attacks against the websites of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.
A denial-of-service (DoS) attack typically involves the use of a large number of computers to bombard websites with phony requests for information, causing the site to temporarily shut down.
On Tuesday, top members of the computer hacker group and its offshoots were arrested and charged after a wide-ranging investigation that was assisted by a group leader working as a secret government informant. The FBI informant, "Sabu," was a part of the elite AntiSec hackers.
CNN's Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.