The Italian cell of the Anonymous hacking collective has taken down the official website of the Vatican offline.

In a statement on Pastebin, the hacktivists have accused the Catholic church of a catalogue of crimes from book censorship in the Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th century to the Spanish Inquisition to the church's role in helping Nazi criminals find refuge in foreign countries after World War II.

"You have burned books of immense historical and literary value, you barbarously executed your fiercest detractors and critics over the centuries, have denied universally deemed valid or plausible theories, have led the unwary to pay to get access to paradise with the sale of indulgences," reads the statement

"Italy has been forced to tolerate your daily interference in the public and social life," the statement continues. "You are bound to the past, you are the last bulwark of an era that is gone and luckily will not repeat again."

The collective stressed that the attack was "not intended to target the true Christian religion and the faithful around the world". It was aimed instead at the "corrupt Roman Apostolic Church and all its emanations".

It added that that attack aimed to show the Vatican site's webmaster's claim that the site was "impossible to hack" was untrue.