Pope Francis offered a 21-point plan to combat sexual abuse by members of the clergy during a church summit Thursday at the Vatican.

The proposals, according to The Vatican's website, include new procedures to investigate accusations and protect victims, raising the minimum marriage age to 16, requiring clergymen found guilty of abuse to leave the ministry and requiring people who want to become priests to undergo psychological evaluations.

"I ask the Holy Spirit to sustain us throughout these days, and to help us to turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification," the pontiff said in his opening remarks, according to a news release. "May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers." 

ADVERTISEMENT

He called upon the Roman Catholic leaders at the conference to "listen to the Holy Spirit and, in docility to his guidance, hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice." 

The pope's comments come at the start of a historic summit as the church looks to address the wave of sexual abuse scandals in recent years.

Victims' groups and other advocates say more must be done.

The Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement that the pope's plan was not enough without formal discipline for those who allowed abuse to occur. 

"What we wanted to see from Rome was action, yet we have heard these words before," the organization said in the statement. "Formalizing these points into policy is meaningless without any willingness to back them up with punishment."

"It is hard to believe that any guidelines being discussed today ... will not simply be ignored as well," the group added. 

The summit comes days after the Pope removed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood. McCarrick, 88, was accused of abusing both minors and adults over several decades. 

Allegations of rampant sexual abuse in the clergy have been public knowledge for decades, but the controversy has heated up in recent months, particularly in the U.S., after bombshell reports accused hundreds of priests of abuse in PennsylvaniaIllinois and Texas