Ever since James Carroll first held up Root & Branch, a major Catholic and ecumenical organization in the UK, as an exemplary church-reform group during our 2021 conversation, we have followed their work with admiration. Root & Branch is committed to raising awareness on clerical sexual abuse and the stories of Survivors, the importance of “do-it-yourself” (“DIY”) faith-sharing groups and small Christian communities, a synodal process involving “the variety of the People of God,” and other issues close to TAC’s mission.
Now Root & Branch has introduced a new global network working for transformational change within the culture and structure of the church. This network will be operated by a small team but not owned by any one group. Instead it will be managed by a new organization called Spirit Unbounded.
Christians everywhere are invited to join with Spirit Unbounded to work together for much-needed change. “We’re stronger together,” said Maggie Conway, who came up with the organization’s name. “The Holy Spirit cannot be contained or defined by man-made laws. The name for our new global network—Spirit Unbounded—expresses that.”
Brian Devlin, another member of the small “Implementation Team” and author of the whistleblower book Cardinal Sin, added, “We need our churches to reflect the beatitudes: you know, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” A Survivor of clerical abuse himself, Devlin says, “Drawing on the lessons of civil rights movements we will be bold in our pursuit of radical and incremental reform and support for Survivors.”
This invocation of a “beatitudinal church” or a “beatitudinal movement” grounds the project in the Word and Spirit of the gospels. As Spirit Unbounded spokesperson Penelope Middelboe said, “There is a terrible irony about the worldwide urgency among ordinary Christians to get their churches to reflect the simple Christian teachings: justice, love, equality.”
A press release announcing the formation of the group states that “Spirit Unbounded is starting out with a Catholic emphasis for a good reason. In October 2023 at the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Catholic bishops will deliver what could amount to a mere cosmetic re-branding exercise.
“Spirit Unbounded supports Pope Francis in his radical initiative to listen to the ordinary people in the pew (and the millions who have walked away),” the release continues. “If, however, the bishops end up voting to maintain their stranglehold on power in all areas, as well as the total exclusion of women from liturgical ministry, SpiritUnbounded.org will be there in Rome to host dissenting voices.”
To this end, Spirit Unbounded will facilitate “The Discipleship of Equals,” an event to take place in Rome and throughout other venues globally on October 13–14, 2023. The event will “hold fast to Jesus’ teaching that all are equal Children of God and will feature progressive Christian speakers from all continents.”
Individuals and groups are encouraged to join Spirit Unbounded in various ways. Individuals might contribute stories about experiencing the complexity of being Catholic today. These stories will be featured on the Spirit Unbounded website, and will be posted on social media channels to generate discussion and mutual support. “It’s only by hearing people’s personal stories that we can learn inclusion and compassion,” Implementation Team member Claus Geißendoerfer affirms. Read others’ stories and find information about how to contribute at the Spirit Unbounded “Our Stories” page. Note that anonymous stories are welcome.
This past Wednesday’s Litany for Vespers in the Benedictine Breviary included the following petition: “Refashion the life of your Church so that the gospel can be proclaimed with boldness.” Spirit Unbounded is laying new groundwork to answer this prayer, and we look forward to sharing their developments in the months to come! ♦