ROME – According to the pope’s top aide, the sometimes-tumultuous debates unleashed in Catholicism by Pope Francis’s 2016 document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, aren’t primarily due to “certain aspects of its content,” but rather the “paradigm shift” for the Church the document represents.

“At the end of the day, what resulted from Amoris Laetitia is a new paradigm that Pope Francis is carrying forward with wisdom, with prudence, and also with patience,” said Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the most senior figure in the Church after the pope himself.

“Probably, the difficulties that came up [around the document] and that still exist in the Church, beyond certain aspects of its content, are due precisely to this change of attitude that the pope is asking of us,” Parolin said.

“It’s a paradigm change, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us – this new spirit, this new approach! … Every change always brings difficulties, but these difficulties have to be dealt with and faced with commitment,” Parolin said.

Parolin’s comments came in an interview with Vatican News, a news portal launched by the Vatican’s new Secretariat for Communications. The text of the interview was released Thursday in Rome.

In English, the term “paradigm shift” was popularized in the early 1960s by physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, who used it to refer to a fundamental change in the concepts and practices underlying a particular branch of science.

Parolin didn’t unpack what sort of paradigm shift Francis intended with Amoris, but most of the controversies have pivoted on its cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion under some circumstances.  Some analysts have suggested the move is part of a broader “pastoral conversion,” one which accents a pastoral approach to concrete situations over a more doctrinal or legal framework.

The document followed two contentious Synods of Bishops on the family, called by Francis in October 2014 and 2015.

On other matters, Parolin addressed Francis’s ongoing project of reform of the Roman Curia, meaning the administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican. In recent months, some observers have suggested those reforms appear to be stalled, pointing in particular to efforts to inject greater transparency and accountability in Vatican finances that seem to have either been rolled back or abandoned.

Parolin insisted that “notable steps forward have been achieved,” but also argued that what Francis is really after isn’t so much structural change, but conversion.

“It’s not so much a matter of structural reforms, with the promulgation of new laws, new norms, personnel appointments, and so on,” he said. “It’s more about the deep spirit that has to animate every reform of the Curia, and it’s the fundamental dimension of the Christian life, which is conversion.”

The idea, Parolin said, “is that the Curia – ever more and ever better, stripping away those shadows that can obscure its duty and mission – can become truly a help to the pope in announcing the Gospel, in giving witness to the Gospel, and in evangelizing the world of today.”

Parolin also took a question on Francis’s upcoming Jan. 15-22 trip to Chile and Peru, saying it won’t be a “simple” trip, but an “exciting” one.

Specifically, Parolin cited two broad issues he believes Francis wants to focus on during the week-long outing to his native Latin America:

  • Challenges facing indigenous populations and persons, asking “what’s the role, the contribution, of these populations to their countries, their societies, in order to make a contribution to those societies?” Parolin said that’s also an important theme for the Synod on the Amazon Francis has called for 2019.
  • Corruption, “which impedes development and also gets in the way of overcoming poverty and misery.”

Finally, Parolin said that 2018 will be a year of a “special concentration of attention by the Church at all levels on youth,” culminating in the Synod of Bishops on youth called for by Francis and set for October.

Here, too, Parolin said there’s a “new paradigm” at work.

“The most innovative thing of this approach is the search for a new relationship between the Church and youth, shaped by a paradigm of responsibility and shorn of any kind of paternalism,” he said.

“The Church wants to enter into dialogue with the realities facing youth today,” he said. “It wants to understand the young, and wants to help them.”

Citing U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” line from his 1961 inaugural address, Parolin said the focus on youth in 2018 is animated by a similar spirit.

“The Church is asking young people, the pope and the Church are asking them, what they can do for the Church, what contribution they can make to the Gospel, and to spreading the Gospel today.”

In a briefing for reporters on Thursday, an official from the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops laid out an ambitious social media campaign in the run-up to the gathering of bishops in October, intended to maximize the participation of youth in the pre-synod preparation.

The campaign is organized under the hashtag #Synod2018, with preparatory materials collected on the campaign’s website. (Laughingly, the official noted that even the French bishops’ conference has signed off on using a single English hashtag in every language, saying, “If the French are okay with it, everybody will be!”)

The synod run-up will also feature a gathering of 300 youth in Rome, chosen by bishops’ conferences around the world, March 19-24.