ROME (CNN) -- Pope Francis has told a senior Vatican official to "act decisively" against sexual abuse and carry out "due proceedings against the guilty," the Vatican announced Friday.
Francis last month took the helm of a Roman Catholic Church that has been rocked in recent years by allegations of priests sexually abusing minors.
Francis recommended that the Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse, first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty," the Vatican said.
The statement does not specify who "the guilty" are.
But in recent years, priests, nuns and other people connected to the Catholic Church have been accused of sexually abusing children.
His instructions to move decisively, "continuing along the lines set by Benedict XVI," came in an audience with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- or the Vatican's main doctrinal enforcer.
Benedict held that role before he became pope.
Francis called for the Church hierarchy to "formulate and implement" the necessary directives to address an area he described as "so important" to the Church's credibility and worship.
The pope said that the "victims of abuse are present in a particular way in his prayers for those who are suffering," the Vatican said.
It's the first time Francis has publicly addressed the issue since becoming pope.
'Victims need action'
The U.S.-based group SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, reacted with skepticism to the news from the Vatican.
Barbara Dorris, victims outreach director for SNAP, said there was a need for action rather than words.
"Once again, as has 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," she said in a statement. "Big deal."
The new pope should be ordering a change of track rather than a continuation on the same course, Dorris said.
"It's tragic that Pope Francis is asking a top aide to stay on the irresponsible path charted by Pope Benedict," she said. "It's tragic that a pope who's shown a willingness to send signals that hint at change in several ways is not signaling that he wants no change in how the church deals with child sex crimes and cover ups."
She called for concrete action to protect vulnerable children, "not old vague pledges that help a widely-discredited institution protect its reputation."
Benedict XVI said many times that abusers should be prosecuted, but was accused by SNAP and other victims' groups of doing too little.
He stepped down as pontiff at the end of February.
Benedict spoke with some victims of sexual abuse by priests on papal visits to countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, where he expressed his "deep sorrow" over the scandal. The Vatican selected those whom he met.
Members of SNAP in Illinois have asked Francis to meet with survivors of abuse by priests.
Last month, one alleged victim of priest sex abuse in Los Angeles, Michael Duran, urged Francis to give Catholics new hope and make priests and cardinals accountable for their actions in cases where children have been sexually abused by clergy.
Duran said he was sexually abused for three years by a Los Angeles Archdiocese priest beginning in 1983, when Duran was 11. The priest has since been defrocked and a lawsuit against him and the archdiocese has been settled.
-- CNN's Livia Borghese reported from Rome. Richard Allen Greene reported and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London.
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