(CNN) -- Football should be used to teach young people moral lessons, Pope Benedict XVI said during an audience with representatives from the Italian football league and lower division clubs.
Pope Benedict XVI is presented with a football by Ancona club officials.
Italian football has been tarnished in recent seasons by corruption, match-fixing scandals and crowd trouble, but the pope insisted the sport celebrated positive virtues as well.
"The sport of football can be a vehicle of education for the values of honesty, solidarity and fraternity, especially for the younger generation," the pope said, according to Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
The comments are not the first foray by the Bavarian-born pope -- reputedly a Bayern Munich supporter -- into Italian football.
In October, he was presented with a No. 16 shirt by officials of the lower league club Ancona after the Vatican endorsed its campaign to turn itself into a "beacon of morality" by adopting an "innovative, ethical model of practising football," Reuters reported.
The code committed Ancona to promoting fair play in a family atmosphere. The club is currently second in Serie C1/B, Italian football's third tier league.
"Football should increasingly become a tool for the teaching of life's ethical and spiritual values," the pope said.
Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was also a keen football fan, reportedly playing in goal during his youth in Poland. All Italian football matches were cancelled on the weekend following his death in 2005. E-mail to a friend