VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Stung by new allegations against Pope Pius XII, the Vatican has taken up the defense of his character and conduct during World War II.

After the recently published biography ``Hitler's Pope'' by British writer John Cornwell raised new questions about whether Pius could have saved more Jewish lives in the Holocaust, the Vatican offered its version today of a pope incessantly working for peace and receiving thanks from Jews for his efforts.

It presented the book ``Pius XII and the Second World War,'' a compilation of documents from the Vatican archives gathered by the Rev. Pierre Blet, a French Jesuit.

``While awaiting the peace that he desired above all else, the peace that was the focal point of everything he said and did, Pius XII never relaxed his efforts to alleviate the sufferings brought about by the war,'' Blet wrote.

The book is coming out in the United States next month. The Associated Press received an advance copy from the publisher, Paulist Press.

The books have been published at a time when the Vatican is considering Pius for beatification, the penultimate step before sainthood.

Since Rolf Hochuch's 1963 play ``The Deputy'' condemned the pope for failing to loudly condemn the killing of Jews, a debate has raged over how much Pius knew about the Holocaust and whether his cautious diplomacy was the only alternative possible if any lives were to be saved.

Cornwell, a Catholic, issued a scalding indictment of Pius, adding particular fuel with the charge that Pius harbored ``a secret antipathy toward the Jews.''

Blet acknowledges that ``Pius XII proceeded silently, with discretion, at the risk of appearing inactive or indifferent.''

``And yet the work of assisting the war's victims was his favorite undertaking,'' Blet wrote, recounting the work of Pius' emissaries.

``It is not surprising that the pope and Vatican diplomacy, with the resources available to them, obtained only limited results. But perhaps what is most surprising is that, in spite of all, the Holy See was able to give hope and consolation to so many families worried about what was happening to their family members who were prisoners.''

One of Pius' staunchest defenders has been Pope John Paul II.

He has called Pius ``a great pope.'' The Vatican's 1998 document examining the church's record in the Holocaust praised ``the wisdom'' of Pius' diplomacy.

This has led to speculation that Pius has been put on a fast track to sainthood. But Rev. Peter Gumpel, a German who is directing the case for beatification for the Vatican, told the AP that final documents in the case will not be submitted before the end of next year.