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Did Jesus say ghosts exist?

Q. In a recent column, you quoted Luke 24:39 ("Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.") Are we to believe from this that Our Lord is confirming the existence of ghosts? (Virginia Beach, Va.)

A. I am aware of no scriptural scholar who would say that this statement of Jesus confirms that there are, in fact, ghosts. On the other hand, Jesus did not debunk the notion when given the chance. Which is pretty much where the Catholic Church stands on the matter of ghosts: There is no settled doctrinal teaching with respect to their existence, no provision in conciliar teaching or canon law that addresses it.

What the church does affirm is that God has from time to time permitted departed souls to commune with people on earth for their betterment — but the exact nature of that communication (whether by an intellectual sharing or a physical manifestation) has not been defined theologically.

Clearly there is no intrinsic contradiction between the existence of "ghosts" and Catholic theology, and Thomas Aquinas did assert in the supplement to his Summa Theologiae that "according to the disposition of divine providence, separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men."

What the church does reject is any attempt proactively to summon the dead. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future" (No. 2116).

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019