Detroit Stories Episode 62: 'Do Catholics Believe in Ghosts?' (PODCAST)

A priest and theologian explain how Catholics understand the supernatural, and where modern 'ghost stories' might fit in

(0:04) The narrator describes a mysterious event that’s alleged to have taken place in the 1960s at a parish on the south side of Chicago, in which parishioners claim to have encountered three “ghostly figures.” Fr. Sam Joutras, OSA, a priest at the parish, explains the legend.

(3:35) Donald Wallenfang, Ph.D., a professor of theology and philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, explains the origins of the word “ghost” in popular parlance. He answers the title question of the podcast: “Do Catholics believe in ghosts?”

(6:17) Wallenfang parses out five possible definitions of what a Catholic might mean by the word “ghost,” and how Catholics understand each definition.

(9:10) While the magisterium of the Church hasn’t definitively addressed the question, Catholic saints and theologians such as St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas and modern philosophers such as Peter Kreeft have talked about ghostly phenomena in their writings, Wallenfang explains. Some of these writings contain stories of encounters with deceased loved ones — presumably in heaven or purgatory — while others report encounters with malevolent or demonic spirits.

(12:44) Wallenfang says it’s important for Catholics to avoid two opposite extremes when it comes to thinking about the devil and demons. He explains why the Church forbids practices that seek to contact spirits, read the future or conjure the dead, and how the sacraments and sacramentals are powerful tools against evil.

(16:27) While the Church urges a healthy degree of caution, skepticism and discernment, it does allow for the possibility that the faithful in heaven or in purgatory may in some way appear to those on earth. Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saints throughout history attest to this. Fr. Joutras offers one theory of the “chanting monks” at St. Rita.

(20:57) Fr. Joutras and Wallenfang say the powerful reality of Christ’s resurrection takes precedence over any “ghost story.” While “spooky” lore has overtaken popular tradition in October, they remind listeners that the origin of Halloween is the celebration of “All Hallow’s Eve” — the great feast of all God’s saints.

(24:24) Fr. Joutras encourages listeners to pray for the dead during the months of October and November, confident of Christ’s light, which overcomes every fear.

Reporting and script by Gabriella Patti; narration and production by Ron Pangborn

This episode of Detroit Stories is brought to you by Gather Them Home, a program of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. Our Catholic faith teaches that cremated remains should be buried in Sacred and Consecrated Ground, and the Archdiocese of Detroit has a beautiful program to help you called Gather Them Home. It provides a Catholic burial for your loved one's cremated remains at one of six Archdiocese of Detroit cemeteries at no cost to you. For more information about the free Gather Them Home program, please visit or call (734) 285-2155.

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