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Canada's Transport Minister John Baird inspects a full-body scanner at a news conference in Ottawa in January. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

The head of the Roman Catholic Church spoke out against the use of body scanners at airports, saying human dignity must be preserved even as countries attempt to protect their citizens against acts of terrorism.

Pope Benedict XVI , making his comments during an audience with airport workers and officials at the Vatican on Sunday, did not specifically use the words body scanner in his address, according to reports in U.K. newspapers the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

But he said that even when facing the threat of terrorism, airport security officials should not forget to respect "the primacy of the human person."

"[With] every action, it is above all essential to protect and value the human person in their integrity," he told the representatives from the aviation industry.

The United States began using the scanners capable of detecting items hidden under clothing at airports as part of new security protocols put in place in the wake of the failed bombing attempt on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

Canada and European countries have followed suit and begun installing their own scanners, particularly for flights destined for the United States.

The Pope is not the first religious leader to speak out against the scanners.

Muslims urged to choose pat-down over scanner

The Fiqh Council of North America, an Islamic group with membership in Canada and the United States, said earlier in February it believed the body scanners were "against the teachings of Islam, natural law and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty."

The group urged Muslim travellers to choose to be patted down by airport security rather than go through the scanners.

Canada is in the process of installing 44 scanners to be used on U.S.-bound passengers selected for secondary screening at Canadian airports.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has said the scanners would protect the privacy of the passenger, and that the officer viewing the image would do so in a separate room and never see the actual traveller.

The focus on security measures stems from the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to set off a bomb on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to ignite the bomb on the Northwest Airlines flight. Officials said he has told U.S. investigators he received training and instructions from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.