Pope Francis has called for 'decisive action' against priests who physically and sexually abuse minors.

Speaking to Bishop Gerhard Mueller, who succeeded Pope Emeritus Benedict as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and who is tasked with responding to each sex abuse case, the pope reportedly requested he ensure that perpetrators were punished.

According to the BBC, the hardline request is the Argentine Pope's first public statement regarding clerical sex abuse.

But a leading sex abuse survivors' group has responded with deep skepticism , saying 'actions speak louder than words.'

Critics recall that when first elected, Benedict XVI had promised to rid the Church of the 'filth" of clerical sex abuse, but survivors groups accused him of covering up past abuse cases and failing to protect children from paedophile priests.

With that in mind victims of sex abuse by clergy have called for a strong response from the new pontiff to the international crisis rocking the Church.

On Friday Pope Francis said combating the crisis - which has seen scandals erupt in the US, Ireland and Europe to Australia - was essential to the credibility of the Church.

A Vatican statement said the Pope had urged Bishop Mueller 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.'

In 2011 Mueller's office called on bishops' conferences around the world to submit guidelines for helping victims, for protecting children, for selecting and training priests and other Church workers, for dealing with accused priests and for collaborating with local authorities.

Three-quarters of the 112 bishops' conferences have sent in their guidelines, with most of those yet to respond coming from Africa, the Vatican says.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) responded to the pope's statement by calling for actions rather than words.

We can't confuse words with actions,' SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris told the BBC. '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.'