The Papal Orders are awarded in the name of the Supreme Pontiff and are given both as awards of His Holiness as Head of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church and also as Sovereign of the Vatican City State. Membership at one time was conferred by Papal Bull, or by Apostolic Letter, signed by the Pope himself, but since the reforms made in the structure of these Orders at the beginning of the 20th century, the diplomas have been signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State. Since the 29 June 1991 this post has been filled by His Eminence Angelo, Cardinal Sodano. The categories below may be considered to embrace all the legitimate Roman Catholic Orders of Knighthood. See ahistory of the evolution of these Orders.
The Papal and Catholic Orders may be divided into several categories.
(1) Those Orders awarded directly by the Supreme Pontiff as head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican City State. These are generally called the Papal Orders. The highest, and most infrequently awarded, is the Supreme Order of Christ; the second is the equally rarely given Order of the Golden Spur, the third is the Order of Pius IX(Pian Order or Ordine Piano), the fourth is the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and the fourth is the Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr. Awards of the Orders of Christ and the Golden Spur at made at the express wish of His Holiness the Pope, in consultation with the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the Ordine Piano are made either to Heads of State and senior members of their household at the time of official visits to the Holy See, to senior members of the Diplomatic Missions accredited to the Holy See and, exceptionally, to those who have particularly served the Holy Father personally or the Holy See, at the discretion of the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the latter two Orders are generally made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops, or of Apostolic Nuncios. There are National Associations of Papal Knights in France, Great Britain and the United States, as well as Diocesan Associations such as those in Milan and Los Angeles.
(2) Those Orders of Chivalry directly under Papal protection. These are today the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Malta, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher. These Orders are under the protection of His Holiness as Supreme Pontiff and are not considered to be awards of the Vatican State. Indeed, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a Sovereign independent entity in International Law which enjoys mutual diplomatic relations with sixty-seven Sovereign States, in addition to being an Observer Member of the United Nations. The Order was founded in the late 11th century but became a Religious Military Order by a Bull of Pope Paschal II of 1113. The Grand Master, presently His Most Eminent Highness Fra’ Andrew Bertie, is elected by the professed, religious members of the Order, and serves for life, or until his abdication (only two Grand Masters in history have ever abdicated). Elections of the Grand Master must be approved by the Supreme Pontiff as the religious superior of the Order, who also appoints a Cardinal patron and a Prelate of the Order.
The Grand Master of the Order of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, however, is appointed directly by the Pope and serves during his pleasure or until such time as he may wish to lay down this office. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is,ex officio, Grand Prior of the Order, while the lay head is the Governor-General (presently Ambassador Count Ludovico Carducci Artenisio). The Knights of the Holy Sepulcher were reorganized as an Order of Knighthood in 1847; the present Cardinal Grand Master is His Eminence Carlo Cardinal Furno, appointed in January 1996.
(3) Those Orders which were founded by Papal Bull, whose membership is limited exclusively to Roman Catholics, which require obligations of service according to Catholic teaching and which generally have a governing body which administers the Order on behalf of the Grand Master. The first of these, the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, is in the unique position of having had Cardinal Protectors appointed directly by the Holy See until the “temporary suspension” of this post in 1924 (as of yet not reinstated). Its Grand Magistery is hereditary by virtue of the Apostolic Letter Sincerae Fidei of 1699 and the Bull Militantis Ecclesiae, which invested it in the person of Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma, and his heirs. The present Grand Master, XIth in succession from Francesco Farnese, is HRH the Infante of Spain Don Carlos de Borbón-Dos Sicilias y Borbón-Parma, Duke of Calabria, who succeeded in 1964. There is a Grand Prior, presently an Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church (presently the Most Reverend Monsignor Bruno B. Heim).
The four Spanish Military Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa have a Prior of the Order who, as Bishop of Ciudad Real, is nominated by the Holy See (and whose appointment is listed in the Annuario Pontificio). The hereditary Perpetual Administrator on Behalf of the Holy See (and Grand Master) of the four Orders since 1975 has been HM King Juan Carlos I of Spain; the President of the Council is HRH the Infante of Spain Don Carlos, Duke of Calabria.
The Sacred Military Order of Saint Stephen (of Tuscany) is a dynastic Order of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine-Tuscany whose statutes have been recently reformed, reaffirming its Catholicity and the annual ceremonies are now once again held in the ancient Priory Church in Pisa. The Order was founded in 1561 and it was accorded its status as an Order under Papal protection by the Bull His, quae pro Religionis propagatione of 1562. The hereditary Grand Magistery is invested in the person of the Head of the House of Habsburg-Tuscany, presently HIRH Archduke Sigismond of Austria, who succeeded in 1994.
The Royal Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Immaculate Conception, a dynastic Order of the Royal House of Bavaria, is likewise still maintained as an exclusively Roman Catholic military Order but is exclusively limited to male Bavarians of the ancient nobility. It was founded in 1726 and confirmed by Papal Bull of 1728. The Grand Magistery is hereditary in the Royal House of Bavaria and is presently held by HRH Duke Franz of Bavaria, who succeeded his father in 1996.
(4) Those Orders which were founded or confirmed by Papal Bulls but which are Collar Orders given in one grade (that of Knight). In order of seniority by date of foundation these are (a) the Supreme Order of the Annunciation(Savoy-Italy), of which the hereditary Grand Master is HRH Crown Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Duke of Savoy, who succeeded in 1983.
(b) the Order of the Golden Fleece, of which the hereditary Sovereign is HM King Juan Carlos I of Spain, who succeeded in 1977.
(c) the Order of the Holy Spirit (France, dormant) (d) the Order of Saint Michel (France, dormant), of which the succession to the Sovereignty is invested in the person of the Head of the Royal House of France.
(d) the Illustrious Royal Order of Saint Januarius, of which the hereditary Grand Master is HRH Infante of Spain Don Carlos, Duke of Calabria, who succeeded in 1964.
(5) The Teutonic Order which, although founded as Religious Military Order of Chivalry, since 1928 has been a purely Religious Order of Priests, Brothers and Sisters, with a category of twelve honorary knights and an unlimited number of associates, known as Marianer. Its headquarters are in Vienna.