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Pope Francis urges action on clergy sex abuse

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis directed the Vatican yesterday to act decisively on clergy sex abuse cases and punish pedophile priests, saying the Catholic Church's "credibility" was on the line.

The announcement was quickly dismissed by some victims' advocates, while others lobbying for reform in the church held out hope the new pontiff might challenge the Vatican's bureaucratic culture, seen as fostering a cover-up mentality.

Clergy abuse victims called for swift and bold action from Francis as soon as he was elected pope last month. Yet in his homeland, Catholic activists had characterized him as slow to act against such abuse in his years heading the Argentine church.

The Vatican's brief announcement about Francis' meeting yesterday with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the office that shapes and enforces policy on what to do about abuse allegations -- depicted Francis as urging assertive action to protect minors.

"The Holy Father in a special way urged that the Congregation, following the line sought by Benedict XVI, act decisively in sex abuse cases, above all promoting measures to protect minors, assistance for all those who in the past suffered such violence, necessary measures against the guilty," the statement said of Francis' meeting with Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller.

It was the first announcement by the Vatican that Francis had made dealing with clergy sex abuse a priority.

Some victims' advocates were unimpressed. "Once again . . . a top Catholic official says he's asking another top Catholic official to take action about pedophile priests and complicit bishops," said Barbara Dorris, an official of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a U.S.-based organization. "Big deal."

Others were cautiously giving Francis the benefit of doubt -- for now.

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