The Pontifical Order of Pius IX
The Pontifical Order of Pius IX is the most senior active Pontifical Order in use today. Its highest grades in general terms are reserved for Sovereigns and Heads of State, its middle ranks to those such as senior politicians and ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The Grand Cross, the highest Papal award given to lay men and women, is also given to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See after two years in post, and to leading Catholics in the wider world for particular services, mainly in the international field and particularly for outstanding deeds for Church and society.
Living recipients of the higher ranks include HM King Juan Carlos I of Spain; Konstantinos Stephanopoulos President of Greece 1995 to 2005; Jacques Chirac President of France 1995 – 2007 and Carlos Menem President of Argentina 1989 – 1999. An Order of Pian knights was founded by Pius IV in about 1560, but this fell into disuse and the present Order, was instituted by Pope Pius IX in 1847, and may be regarded as a new foundation.