Reports that the valuable treasure of St. Januarius will be placed in the hands of the Vatican rather than the city of Naples are inaccurate, says a monsignor who oversees the assets.

“The information given by newspapers is completely misleading. The decree of the Italian Ministry for Internal Affairs is intended to heal a legal problem that has not been fixed until now,” Msgr. Vincenzo De Gregorio, Abbot prelate of the Chapel of the Treasury of San Gennaro told CNA.

“I would like to stress at first that the chapel of the treasure of St. Januarius is completely owned by the City of Naples, and it is completely autonomous: this is fully acknowledged by the Ministry,” he added. “The chapel of the Treasury of St. January is considered of 'lay property' with a statute issued by Pius XI in 1927.”

Earlier this week, about 3,000 people in Naples, Italy stood in front of the San Gennaro (the Italian pronunciation of the saint's name) museum and chapel Saturday, waving white handkerchiefs and shouting “Hands off San Gennaro.”

They were protesting a recent decree by Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who reclassified the treasure of  St. Januarius as religious, rather than secular property.

Several sources reported that the move could put the Saint’s collection of jewels back in the hands of the Vatican rather than the city, which has managed the treasure through a lay council since the 16th century. The treasure, thought to be worth more than the British crown jewels, is a collection that was donated by kings and nobleman in honor of St. Januarius.

These claims misunderstand the purpose of the decree in the first place, Msgr. De Gregorio said, which was to solve an existing legal problem with the lay council of the treasure, which for years had refused to update its statutes to fit with the latest Italian Constitution of 1948.

The recent decree, then, was a legal intervention that reclassified the lay council as a “Fabric” (in Italian: fabriceria), which requires that four members of such councils be appointed by the Church. The property of the treasure will not be affected, and the four Church-appointed members will still be in the minority on the 12-person council.

“…even the old statute stated that the Council had to subject every year the balance sheet to the bishop of Naples,” Msgr. De Gregorio said.     

“With the new statutes, there are four members representing the Church because in fact the Chapel is a place of worship: it was born for the St. Januarius (devotion) and exists because of St. Januarius (devotion).”

The real problem was that for years the Council had only been appointing members from the nobility of Naples, so rather than belonging to the whole city, the Chapel had “de facto become the property of some families of Naples,” Msgr. De Gregorio said.

“The council was composed by 12 members: ten represent the nobility and two represent the common people. The non-noble (members) have been chosen until now by the same members of the Council.”

Critics also blamed Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (Archbishop of Naples) for pressuring Alfano to make the decree, in order to extend his influence over the treasure and the popular devotion of St. Januarius, whose relic of blood miraculously liquefies three times a year, and sometimes on other special occasions.

These claims are also “complete nonsense,” Msgr. De Gregorio said. There is a 1646 document, signed by a notary, in which the Archbishop of Naples at the time gave the council possession of the St. Januarius jewels and silver, but the bust of St. Januarius, as well as the cruet with his blood, have always remained in the possession of the Church.

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