VATICAN CITY – A spokesperson for the Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that the Holy See’s main data storage facility in Vatican City has suffered a massive data breach at the hands of anonymous computer hackers. “An attack of this kind is unprecedented in sheer size,” Dr. Greg Burke told reporters Wednesday morning. Dr. Burke, who was appointed in 2015 by Pope Francis to serve as Deputy Director of the Press Office, said the breach was discovered last week by network security administrators who were performing a series of routine maintenance tasks.
“It will take months for us to fully realize the impact of this loss,” Dr. Burke said. Still, the Vatican’s initial estimates show the hackers were able to breach its networks firewalls in a matter of minutes before making off with approximately 450,000 terabytes of data including information on more than twenty billion confessions. Mr. Burke called the incident an “unholy breach,” saying he feared the repercussions could last for decades.
While the Seal of the Confessional prevents Catholic priests from disclosing what they learn from worshipers during a confession, the Vatican routinely collects metadata obtained during the sacred process. “The type of metadata we collect includes the age, sex, race, and geographical location of the individual as well as the type of confession being made,” explained Father Julio Francisco, who oversees bulk metadata collection operations for the Vatican.
“We use this information to determine which sins require the most attention,” Father Francisco said. “The Papacy then advises church leaders around the world to specifically address these sins during the Mass Intentions.” In addition to gathering metadata on nearly one-third of the earth’s population, the Vatican’s bulk metadata collection program also helps the Church keep track of which countries log the most transgressions annually. Citing a need for confidentiality, Father Francisco declined to comment on the content of the data but said he believes whoever stole the information will likely try to sell it or, at the very least, leak it online.
While news of the Vatican’s ongoing metadata collection program may come as a surprise to some, Vatican spokesperson Dr. Greg Burke says it’s nothing new. “What we’re doing is perfectly legal under the laws of the Church,” he told reporters, adding that despite the breach, the Vatican has already taken steps to expand its efforts to curb the rise of global sinning.