What does the Church say about ghosts?

By Jenna Marie Cooper

Question Corner

Q: When I was an Evangelical, I was told there was no such thing as ghosts and that paranormal phenomena were likely demons. What does the Church say about this? Doesn't the Church teach that there are such things as apparitions? (Brandenburg, Kentucky)

A: The word ghost can refer to several different concepts. For instance, one use of the word ghost is as a synonym for spirit -- think of how Catholics would refer to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost. In that sense, since Catholics believe in spiritual beings, we would certainly believe in ghosts.  The word ghost is derived from the German geist, while spirit is derived from the Latin spiritus.

All human beings have an immortal soul that survives the death of the body, and that will eventually be reunited with the resurrected body at the end of time. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (962) teaches, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Paul VI, CPG §30).  Think of how we ask the saints to intercede for us with prayer. Further, in accordance with purgatory as a time of post-mortem purification, we know that not every soul destined for heaven will get there right away.  We pray for the poor souls in purgatory, as explained by the Catechism (1032), “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.  The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

Generally, hauntings or other paranormal ghostly activity are likely connected to demonic activity (that warrants the involvement of a priest exorcist).  Substance abuse or psychological problems can also be a source of these issues, and an evaluation by a psychologist could be helpful.

It is also possible that something that appears to be a supernatural haunting in a given instance is actually something with an entirely natural explanation.

In any event, we should never seek out hauntings or try to contact the dead ourselves through means like Ouija boards, seances, palm readings, tarot cards, or psychic mediums. This is a grave sin against the first commandment, and participating in such activities runs the risk opening a door to the demonic in our own lives.  If someone has done this, please contact a priest.

On the other hand, apparitions are our term for instances when a person from heaven -- most often Our Blessed Mother -- appears to a certain person or people for a particular purpose or with a specific message as she did most famously at Lourdes and at Fatima.

–The Blessed Mother was assumed body and soul into heaven, and her apparitions are for our spiritual benefit as they draw us closer to her beloved Son.

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Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to [email protected].