What is the Church’s perspective on spirits and ghosts?
Thank you for your question. These are subjects about which we might not often think. We live in an era where focus is most often on the material realities of the world. However, the Church has always maintained that there are spiritual realities. God’s creation is not just limited to the world that we can see. In fact, we maintain that human beings are themselves composites of the material and spiritual.
If we look at the diverse creatures of the world, it’s not a stretch to surmise that there might be a diversity of spiritual beings as well. The most common spiritual creatures, angels, are mentioned numerous times in the Bible. A quick search of the Bible brings up 295 instances of angels being mentioned. Rafael, Gabriel, and Michael would be the three identified by name. The Bible also affirms the existence of spiritual beings that are opposed to God. Jesus frequently expelled demons, demonstrating the power of God over the spiritual powers of darkness opposed to Him.
However, what are we to think about the concept of ghosts? To my knowledge, the Church does not provide a definitive teaching on ghosts. We are free to believe what we will. However, if we are to believe in ghosts, it would seem that we would need to recognize that a ghost is allowed to appear for one of number of reasons. First, a ghost may be a soul from the realm of purgatory. It has been suggested that some ghosts are souls in need of our prayers so that they may be able to pass to the fullness of life with God. Alternatively, a ghost might be a soul allowed to appear in order to give a message. For instance, a family may see a joyful apparition of a ghost that provides assurance of their loved one’s entrance into eternal joy. Thirdly, an apparition may not be a ghost at all, but some kind of demonic presence.
Having a hard time deciding whether this is something that you believe in? I would suggest looking at the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The principle states that for every effect there must be some cause that is capable of bringing about that effect. If a particular experience can be explained by a natural cause, then that should be sufficient to explain the phenomenon. For instance, if a person seeing ghosts has had a history of mental illness, the mental illness might be sufficient to explain the situation. However, if multiple people all have experienced the same phenomenon, and they are all of sound mental health, and there are no other reasonable explanations for the event, it might be possible to propose that something more is going on. Something must be causing the given effect. Perhaps it can be attributed to a spiritual reality.
One way or another, it’s not something we should normally be spending time worrying too much about. Talk of ghosts and demons can be a little unnerving. However, we stay close to God and trust in His power and goodness. In the event that you are being bothered by such a phenomenon, seek out a trusted priest.