You make a good case that dramatic change can occur in the church, and that the resources are there in the church's history to facilitate that change. Do you still need a Roncalli-type figure who's —
You do. You need world-historical figures. I used to say that the church needs a new Pope John XXIII [a/k/a/ Angelo Roncalli]; now I say it needs a Gorbachev.
Look who Gorbachev was. He came out of the heart of the Communist Party. True, he came out of something called "New Thinking" — this movement in the 1970s and 1980s among young communist intellectuals in the Soviet Union that was embodied in the two words we associate with Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika, new ideas of how politics and the economy should be — but his mentor, the man who appointed him, was a KGB operative, Yuri Andropov. Andropov was a right-wing reactionary. He was like a Pope Benedict, and he came to power with an agenda of preserving the old order at all costs. He died, and he was replace by Konstantin Chernenko for a brief interregnum.
The shocking, unpredicted event — what the Kremlinologists who'd spent their lives studying the Soviet Union said was impossible — was that you got reform from within the system. By a coincidence of history that almost makes you believe in God, Gorbachev came to power just at the point where Ronald Reagan was at the bottom of his failed first term as president. True, he was re-elected, but his policy was going nowhere. He was presiding over a war, in the Cold Warck, that the United States was losing, and he was about to be disgraced through the Iran-Contra affair. His people were afraid of him. He needed a new act. And the new act began with Gorbachev, who put before Reagan the possibility of ending the Cold War nonviolently.
It's true the Soviet Union was in a state of collapse: it was behind the curve of history on computer technology; its economy was a shambles; it was a house of cards ready to fall. But that's when tyrannies like that are most dangerous. The impulse is to strike out. It would have been reasonable to expect the Soviet Union to act out the nightmare scenario of nuclear war — and it didn't happen because of Gorbachev.
Over the next few years, Gorbachev made a succession of decisions that everyone said he couldn't make. Every time he made an offer to Reagan, Reagan would raise an objection, and Gorbachev would remove the objection by acting on it. When Gorbachev said, 'Let's get rid of midrange nuclear weapons,' Reagan said, 'Well, if we do that you'll have conventional superiority in Europe, because the Red Army is poised to attack Western Europe. Of course you want to get rid of nuclear weapons.' To which Gorbachev said, 'Okay, I'll remove the Red Army.' And he ordered it out! He got to yes with Reagan, and the two of them came within an inch of agreeing to end the whole nuclear arms race. It's an astonishing story. Gorbachev saved the world. He gave us a way out of this room that we were locked in that was inevitably going to destroy the world.