What Is the Catholic Teaching on the Presence of Ghosts or Spirits?

Image of shadows on curtainsQ: Scientists are constantly trying to “prove” the existence of ghosts or departed spirits. What is the Catholic teaching on the presence of ghosts or spirits?

Catholics believe that death is not the end of human existence. While our present, corruptible bodies decay after death, our immortal souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies in the fullness of time. We don’t actually know what this will look like, although we do believe that we can have contact with the dead who have gone before us. That’s what we do when we pray for the intercession of the saints. But the Church does not teach that tormented souls linger on earth like the ghosts of popular imagination. Instead, Catholics believe that the communion of saints is invisible to most people most of the time. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not necessarily though the empirical channels employed by scientists in search of the paranormal.

Theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., explains this well:

“The great mistake of many people … is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In the darkness? Oh, no. It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes … Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent … They are living near us transfigured into light and power and love.”

Originally published October 25, 2013.

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.