The Vatican says bishops should hand over priests accused of sexually abusing children to the authorities so they can face legal action.
In a letter sent to bishops on Monday, the Holy See set out provisional new guidelines for dealing with sex abuse crimes.
The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by a string of high-profile scandals over the past year.
But a US victims group dismissed the guidelines, insisting that binding rules must be drawn up to properly punish priests who abuse children.
Last month, Amnesty International accused the Vatican of feeling to meet international obligations to protect children.