Ghosts and the Catholic Church

 When I was ten years old I had a direct encounter with a ghost. My brother and I were playing in the attic of our three-story house on 2096 Wall St., Rahway NJ Google Earth it). The attic was our bedroom (Yup...this is already a horror story). Anyway, there were steep stairs leading up to the bedroom from the third floor walk way. My brother and I were playing Power Rangers as usual and I ended up pushing him down the stairs. He tumbled all the way to the bottom hitting his head against the door.

He began to cry and I, like any good brother, ran and hid from the impending doom that awaited me by my parents. My mother heard his cries and ran upstairs.
She opened the door and saw my brother crying, but with a pale white face. I felt the grip of her eye contact lock around my neck, but quickly release itself. For my brother spoke, "Mommy, a lady kissed me."

It was known that our old Jersey house had a ghost lady who walked the third story in a white night gown. She had been seen by my uncle, my grandmother, my mother, my cousin, my cousin’s friend, and now my brother. I prayed that I would never see her because I was too frightened, but my brother’s words were enough to send shivers through my body for years and instill the fear of sleeping in my room ever again. 

Was it a ghost? I've always ask myself that, if so how can I as a Catholic understand it? Does the Catholic Church even recognize the existence of ghosts?

I decided to do a little research using some great references.

What do you mean by Ghost?

First of all, when we talk about ghosts what do we really mean?  "Ghost" is simply the German-derived equivalent of the Latin-derived word "Spirit." 

That's why the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Holy Ghost. Originally in English "ghost" and "spirit" referred to the same thing. So if by "Ghost" we are referring to "disembodied spirits" the YES, the Catholic Church believes in ghosts.
One of the members of the Holy Trinity is called a Ghost!

Where do we go when we die?

The Church has always taught that there is a place that God has prepared for us after this life when entering death. Heaven was opened for all disembodied spirit
s who died prior to Jesus’ death when Jesus descended into hell and brought the awaiting spirits to his heavenly Father. After death, the body stays behind and awaits it’s resurrection at the end of the age, but the spirit, which is eternal, is accepted into heaven with the communion of Saints and the Angels.

 “For we know that if our earthly house this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 5:1

Does the Sixth Sense make sense?

 Okay, if that is so, then what is the deal with all of these Ghost’s that are seen back here on earth? Are they spirits that are stuck between worlds, ghosts with unfinished business as seen in Casper, or energy fields left behind from deceased person? In the film “The Sixth Sense” we are introduced to a little boy who can “see dead people”, that is the invisible part of human being after death. The ghosts usually don’t know they are dead and seek him out for a kind of resolution to their after-life. Is this possible? Can a spirit still roam the earth after death as in the “Sixth Sense”? Well I picked this out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

(CCC 1021) Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul—a destiny which can be different for some and for others.

(CCC 1022) Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation.

So according to the Catholic Church’s teachings, there cannot be ghosts who linger around the earth lost, confused, with no place to go, or with a form of “unfinished business”. At the time of death, a spirit will know exactly where it should be based on their merits in the life they led. So how does that explain what my brother saw or what millions of others have seen throughout the centuries?

There are 3 Explanations the Church Offers

"Spirit is of three kinds: the human spirit which combined with body make up a human being; the defined spirit that has no body, such as angels; and the infinite Spirit, or God, of Whom the Third Person is the Holy Ghost" - Fr. John Hardon

#1 Angels and the Communion of Saints

The appearance of a Ghost could be a vision of an angel or a saint. Angels have the ability to appear to human beings with God’s permission delivering divine messages. Think of the Archangel Gabriel’s message to Mary in Luke 1 or the two angel’s appearance to Mary Magdalene in John 20.

(CCC 329)  St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.'“
With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God.

So Angels are spirits and can also be called Ghosts. As defined by the Eastern
Church, a Saint is any person in heaven. If a Saint is in heaven and there body is still here on earth, they too can be called ghosts.

(CCC 956) The intercession of the saints.  “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.... They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us.

Saints and Angels can communicate with human beings. These would be the friendly ghosts who are seeking to help rather than to harm.

“Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living” (Fr. John A. Hardon,

Ghosts and the Scriptures

The Bible has its very own Ghost story found in 1 Samuel 28:1-25. A brief overview: King Saul turned to the Witch of Endor to call upon the dead soul of the prophet Samuel. “Whom do you want me to conjure up?” the woman asked him. “Conjure up Samuel for me,” he replied... Samuel appears and tells Saul that God said he will lose the war against the Philistines and hand Israel over to David, the new King. Samuel appears to Saul as a ghost, but with permission from God to deliver a divine message to Saul.

“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."  Luke 24:38-40

Jesus even speaks about ghosts with his disciples. “When they saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:25-27

The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and they were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because they believed in Ghosts. Jesus did not rebuke them for thinking he was a Ghost, instead he just calmed them down and let them know it was Him. If the concept of a disembodied spirit is so unbiblical why did Jesus let his disciples believe such things exist without correction? In scripture, Heavenly messengers always say “Be not afraid. Interesting.

#2 Purgatory

Purgatory is simple to understand, but I get why some Christian denominations dispute it. In order to purify flesh you must heat it. When you cook a steak, the fire kills the bacteria that is on it. Humans are not steaks to be consumed, but we are flesh to be communed. In order for us to get back into the full presence of God and the communion of Saints, we must first be purified with God’s love if we die with the stain of sin. Think of the Seraphim, the burning ones, who are noted to serve God in the Old
Testament. They are Angels that are so close to God that they are on fire.
Souls in purgatory have been reported to appear to those on earth in the state of purgation. Eyewitnesses, such as St. Faustina, attest to encounters of purgative souls ablaze in flame who come seeking prayers. Purgatory is a very hard concept for many non-Catholics and many Catholics, but it is one of the oldest teachings of the Church. The Magisterium and Tradition of the Church confirm the existence of purgatory. 

Church Fathers such as, Tertullian (Rome, 160 - 220?), Origen
(Alexandria, 185 - 254?), Cyprian (Carthage, 200 - 258), Ambrose (Tier,
340 - 397), Augustine (Numidia, 354 - 430), Basil (Caesarea, 329 - 379),
Gregory of Nazianzus (in Cappadocia, 329 - 389), John Chrysostom
(Antioch, 349 - 407), Gregory the Great (Rome, 540 - 604) all confirmed the existence of purgatory.

Council of Lyons II (1274) stated “We believe ... that the souls, by the purifying compensation are purged after death.”
Council of Florence - Repeated the Council of Lyons II.
Council of Trent (1545-1563) “We constantly hold that purgatory exists, and that the souls of the faithful there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful.”

(CCC 1031) The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of cleansing fire.  As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

(CCC 1072) To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin.

Yes, even the Bible speaks of purgatory: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble – each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:12-15

Could Purgatory explain the ghosts that appear in the Sixth Sense for example?

Visions of Ghosts in Purgatory

Many saints have attested to having visions of ghosts in purgatory. In the words of St. Faustina:

"One night, a sister who had died two months previously came to me. She was a sister of the first choir. I saw her in a terrible condition, all in flames with her face painfully distorted. This lasted only a short time, and then she disappeared. A shudder went through my soul because I did not know whether she was suffering in purgatory or in hell. Nevertheless, I redoubled my prayers for her.

"After some time she came back again to me during the night, but already her appearance had changed. There were no longer any flames, as there had been before, and her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy. She told me that I had a true love for my neighbor and that many other souls had profited from my prayers. She urged me not to cease praying for the souls in purgatory, and she added that she herself would not remain there much longer. How astounding are the decrees of God!"

Purgatory Museum

Okay, one of the creepiest things I have ever discovered is the Museo Del Purgatorio, or "Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It further explains the crossing over of Purgative souls into our realm, but still with the permission of God to deliver a message. The Museum is located in the back of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio on the banks of the Tiber. What’s inside you ask? The museum showcases items that have been singed by human souls in purgatory. Bibles, clothing, and prayer books are some of the items on display.

IRONIC FACT: In 2007 the purgatory museum caught fire damaging a major painting and also “resulted in scorched fingerprints on prayer books, as well as singed clothes and burnt wood.”

For a good read and a further study on purgatory, check out Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from PurgatoryAfter a week of hearing ghostly noises, a man is visited in his home by the spirit of his mother, dead for three decades. She reproaches him for his dissolute life and begs him to have Masses said in her name. Then she lays her hand on his sleeve, leaving an indelible burn mark, and departs... Gerard J M Van Den Aardweg

#3 Demons

“There are no good spirits other than angels; there are no evil spirits other than demons.” Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist for the Vatican

The final explanation of ghosts is what Hollywood loves to make movies about, demonic activity. Demons are fallen angels. When a third of the angels fell from the great battle in heaven, the demons did not lose their angelic powers given to them by God. Therefore, they are defined spirits, the same as angels. Demons will use human loss to enter in and even take the image of a passes loved one. What one may think is the spirit of their father, mother, or spouse could actually be a form of demonic trickery.

The popular idea that ghosts are the spirits of human souls who have died and are trapped here for some reason is not possible. They are much more likely to be demons disguising themselves as the “ghost” or spirit of a human being for the purpose of leading people away from the true faith.

“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” - 2 Corinthians 11:14

Fr. Gabriele mentions in his book “An Exorcist Tells His Story” that demons are fallen angels cast down to earth awaiting appointed judgment. So they maintain the power that God has given them if even for only a brief time. Demons could mask their appearance and take the form of a loss loved one urging you to communicate with them. I used to have really crazy dreams and weird things happen to me when I was sleeping. One night the covers would be thrown off of me and I would be freezing, another I would feel as if someone were standing over me and be unable to move, another night I would have dreams of Satan ripping a rosary from my hands and throwing it to the floor. I promise I’m not crazy. When I told this to a priest friend of mine, he told me to do two things.

1)    Sleep with a St. Benedict cross

2)    Never communicate with the spirit (NEVER EVER)

3)    Pray “Hail Mary’s” while it happens to me

After following these suggestions, I have yet to encounter anything like that again. What stuck out to me was the fact that he told me never to communicate with any spirit that I thought was there. It is a way of letting something in that should not be. This goes for playing with Ouija boards, attempting sorcery or black magic.

(CCC 2117) We are never to never conjure up the dead, leaving room for demon trickery.

Haunted Houses

What about Haunted houses? In American Horror Story Season One, the entire house is haunted by the souls of those who died in there. This is what Fr. Gabriele Amorth calls Diabolic Infestation. In this case, the malefic activity is directed toward places (houses, offices, stores, fields), objects (cars, pillows, mattresses, dolls) and animals, therefore it only indirectly affects man. Therefore Haunted Houses can exist that are filled with demonic presences, not a trapped human soul wandering earth. If you ever seen American Horror Story, you will know that right off of the bat, those presences are completely demonic.  

If you believe your house may be haunted, don’t take it lightly. Get a priest or Deacon to clean your house!


Ephesians 6:11Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

You have probably read this passage dozens of times, but have you paid attention to what St. Paul lists as who we wrestle with? He says Principalities and Powers, two hierarchies of Angels. Remember that the fallen angels (demons) retain their power given to them from God. So we are indeed in a spiritual battle against them.

So, yes the Catholic Church absolutely does believe in a spiritual realm. This realm is inhabited by human spirits, defined spirits (Angels and Demons) and the infinite Spirit, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Does it explain it all? No, the spiritual realm is certainly a mystery and there may be more things at play that we do not yet understand. The Church’s teaching is based on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. If we knew it all then what would we need God for?

Final Notes:

Judgment after death is immediate. God can allow, for various reasons, a deceased human soul to interact with living beings.

There cannot be souls who roam the earth with “unfinished business”.

We are not to seek out deceased souls.

Reflect upon: How would you interpret “The Sixth Sense” with the Catholic understanding of Ghosts?


 Cathechism of the Catholic Church
The Holy Bible
"An Exorcist Tells His Story" - Fr. Gabriele Amorth
The Diary of St. Faustina

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