Ghosts are scary. Reporters are scary. Is there anything scarier than a reporter asking questions about ghosts? Apparently not, according to several priests and professors approached for this story.
As I searched for evidence of the spectral at Catholic sites—rectories, cemeteries, sanctuaries, seminaries, convents—I found rumors of a few hauntings, but near universal reticence to confirm even those rumors. “No idea what you're talking about, and I've been here for years,” one priest said when I asked about staff who reported strange sounds coming from the parish school.
The entire theology faculty at a prestigious Catholic university denied my request for an interview. My email to the school's PR person explaining what I was looking for: “I'm just hoping someone can put the pop phenomenon of ghosts into a historical perspective vis a vis church teaching. So, for instance, how has the church explained through the centuries what ghost-sightings are? Where do ghost-sightings fit in with the Catholic conception of purgatory? What are the theological reasons against believing in ghosts? That kind of thing.”
No one on the faculty was available for an interview, I was told. Why? “They felt that, from a theological standpoint, they had nothing to add. I think it seemed a little silly to them.”
Much of that reserve may stem from context. We live in a rational age. Grown-ups don't believe in ghosts. And yet everyone who said they didn't want to talk was a believer in the supernatural. I wasn't talking to atheists, after all.
This guest blog accompanies "Paranormal activity: Do Catholics believe in ghosts?" which appeared in the October 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 10, pages 12-17).