Ask Alice about Catholicism
Do Catholics believe in ghosts?

This is the post-Halloween question I was waiting for! It’s a good question, especially for those old enough to remember when the Trinity was defined as “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” First, the word ghost comes from the German Geist, which means “spirit.” So there is less difference between these terms than we normally ascribe. Our modern idea of ghosts, however, is so shaped by horror films and the occult that I can’t say simply: Yes, Catholicism admits the reality of ghosts. Let me take a longer route to the answer.

Catholicism teaches that we are both body and soul, or as Saint Paul says (using the Greek for these words), flesh and spirit. The soul is a “substantial and spiritual principle endowed with immortality” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. It’s substantial because it has elements of being, such as potency, stability, and the capacity to be modified. It’s spiritual in that it is immaterial and has intelligence and free will—irrespective of its relationship to a physical body. When we die, the soul separates from the body, to be reunited “at the end of the ages.”

Jesuit John Hardon in his Modern Catholic Dictionary notes that God may and does permit the souls of the dead to appear before the living when it’s suitable for our salvation. The lives of the saints are full of such apparitions. Church teaching, based in biblical tradition, warns against trying to conjure or control such spirits as occult practices routinely do. That means just say no to Ouija boards, séances, mediums, automatic writing, tarot cards, or other supernatural methods for obtaining information.

Seeking the aid of powers other than God is a deterrent to faith, does not lead to good, and can lead to harm. That is the Catholic position on the supernatural in general. Note: It is not a refutation of the existence of supernatural things, angels, demons, and “ghosts” included. In fact, because exorcism is still on the books in Catholic teaching, it would confirm rather than deny the reality of the spiritual world.

But for heaven’s sake, none of this should make you scared! Catholics believe that God alone is sovereign, and there is no power or principality equal to divine authority—Satan included. Lost souls aren’t wandering around aimlessly or even purposefully to get you. All created things must answer to God, just like you and me. The Ghost you’re most likely to engage is a Holy one.

• Deuteronomy 18:9-14; 1 Samuel 28:4-25; 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 3:1-3; Micah 5:11; Acts 7:51-53; 13:6-12; 16:16-24; 19:13-20

"I believe in life everlasting," Catechism of the Catholic Church

Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen (Penguin Books, 2001)
Apparitions of Modern Saints by Patricia Treece (Charis Books, 2001)

Ask Alice a question.
Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

Before sending Alice a question, please check below to see if she has already responded to it. Also, please send only questions of general interest. Not all questions can be used. Thank you!
Got a question for Alice?

   Ask her now!

More questions...and responses

Where did Lent come from?

What’s so important about the Council of Trent?

What are the “Precepts of the Church”?

Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?

Why can’t a woman be ordained?

Why does the liturgy change?

Is Purgatory still “on the books”?

Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?

Why pray the rosary?

Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?

Did King David compose the psalms?

Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?

Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?

What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?

Is a long or short discernment process better for someone interested in becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?

Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?

What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?

What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?

What is the Triduum?

Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?

"What should I believe about hell?"

Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

What was the Reformation?

What is “discernment of spirits”?

Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why are there parishes?

Who was Saint Augustine?

What is "sanctuary"?

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

How does God “answer” prayers?

What does “salvation history” mean?

Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Why do priests wear vestments?

Do miracles still happen?

What do deacons do?

How is the Mass “prayer”?

What is Catholic decision-making?

Who wrote the gospels?

What is “original sin”?

How does the Catholic Church view other religions?

The "Five C's" of Confession

What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?

Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?

What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Can I come back to the church?

Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?

What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?

Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?

Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?

Why pray for the dead?

Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?

How were the books of the Bible chosen?

What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?

What do Catholics have to believe?

Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?

What is the lectionary?

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Did Jesus establish a church? How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to this big institution?

What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?

Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?

What do people in religious life do for fun?

Why is celibacy important to religious life?

Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?

What is contemplation?

Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Should I read the Bible?

How can I be happy?

How can I live a holy life?