Are Ghosts Real?

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove descending on the Holy Family, with God the Father and angels shown atop, by Murillo, c. 1677.

As Halloween quickly approaches and we begin to see horror movies in the theaters, an obvious question that sometimes get asked is, “Is any of this real? Do ghosts actually exist? And as for believing Catholics how do we make sense of ghosts?”

From the medieval times the Catholic Church has been finding a way to answer this question. The prevailing thought at the time was that ghosts were really spirits who haven’t passed over to the other side, and were still present on earth to complete some undone task while there still alive (Townsend). This original thought makes sense as it was during this time that the doctrine of purgatory, a place of purification, was being written in the 15th and 16th centuries at the Council of Florence and Trent. (For more on purgatory check out Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030-1032)

As the Catholic Church came more into the modern world it began to take a more firm stance without going too far into detail. The Catholic Church makes it very clear that any practice of “divination are to be rejected” (CCC 2116). Practices of divination could be described as mediums, psychics, trying to predict the future, palm reading, etc. Practicing these kinds of activities “contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (CCC 2116).

As the Catholic Church makes this claim, one must ask “well our faith believes in things supernaturally?” The Catholic Church is no stranger to the supernatural. We actually confess to some existence of the supernatural when we say in our Nicene Creed “of all things visible and invisible” and part of our Holy Trinity is the “Holy Spirit.” Additionally as a church we pray for deceased souls to arrive in heaven as we pray to the “communion of saints.” So, in the end what is the Catholic Church really trying to tell us?

In essence when we talk about ghosts the Catholic Church tells us that everything starts and ends with God. Tim Townsend, an award-winning religion reporter, quoted Bishop Raymond Goedert in his article “Paranormal Activity” written for the U.S. Catholic magazine in October 2013 by saying, “‘I’m aware that it’s possible that a person who dies can appear to the living. But that’s up to God – if God wants to let that person appear, he will’” (16). Bishop Goedert’s quote makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of the supernatural beings angels. The word angel, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are referred to as “messengers of God” (CCC 329). So, by God’s will and command angels are sent to deliver messages to the living, i.e. Gabriel at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). Additionally Bishop Goedert says, “I believe in spirits” (16). Again referring back to the CCC 329 angels by nature are called “spirit.”

So, in the end it is possible to believe in “ghosts” if we call them by their true nature spirits. Additionally, anybody claiming to have seen a spirit must understand that spirits operate by the will of God. Furthermore, we don’t need any proof of the supernatural if we have faith in God.


All quotes are from the author Tim Townsend, “Paranormal Activity”
– full article can be read at (