ROME -- Pope Francis has called on the Roman Catholic Church to "act decisively" to end the sexual abuse of minors by priests, the Vatican said Friday.
At a meeting with the head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, Francis said tackling the abuse problem was crucial for the credibility of the church, the Vatican said in a statement.
Abuse by priests remains a major problem for the church and has cost it millions of dollars in legal fees while prompting declining church attendance amid accusations that senior prelates covered up for abusive priests.
Mueller heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates cases of abuse.
The newly elected pope said the Vatican department should continue to "act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past [and] the necessary procedures against those who are guilty," the statement said.
Francis said he wanted bishops to enact "directives in this matter, which is so important for the witness of the church and its credibility."
The statement prompted a skeptical reaction from a victims group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which said it did not go far enough.
"Action, not discussion, is needed," a statement from the group said. "We can't confuse words with actions. When we do, we hurt kids. We must insist on new tangible action that helps vulnerable children protect their bodies, not old vague pledges that help a widely discredited institution protect its reputation."
"Once again, as have happened hundreds of times already, a top Catholic official says he's asking another top Catholic official to take action about pedophile priests and complicit bishops," Barbara Dorris, an official of the group, told the Associated Press.
Dorris also criticized Francis' encounter with Cardinal Bernard Law during a visit to St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome the day after the pope's election last month.
Law, the former archbishop of Boston who was accused covering up for abusive priests there, was named by the late Pope John Paul II to head the basilica and has since retired from the post.