It is the first time Benedict publicly defended the record of the wartime pontiff, whose consideration for sainthood is moving forward despite the accusations, ANSA, the Italian news agency, reported Friday.
Pope Pius XII "spared no effort, wherever it was possible, to intervene (for Jews) directly or through instructions given to individuals or institutions in the Catholic Church," Benedict said.
Pius worked quietly "avert the worst and save the highest number of Jews possible," Benedict said. He also noted that Pius, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, was thanked by Jewish groups during and after the war, ANSA said.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said the story that Pius stood by while Nazis exterminated millions of Jews "has become so firmly established that even scratching it is an arduous task."
Critics, including many Jewish associations, argue that a strong, public stance from Pope Pius XII could have changed the course of the war.