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Are ghosts real?

Q: Most people avoid looking at the proof of ghosts. There are some that are stuck in time, some that interact with the living, and some that are not so good. The point is, there's overwhelming proof of ghosts out there, as well as my own experiences.

Every time I bring this up with my Christian friends, however (along with the possibility of purgatory), they deny everything. I call purgatory "the waiting room," harboring the spirits of people who can't let go of what they once had. I feel these spirits have yet to repent and move on. Any thoughts?

-- D.

A: Angels are not ghosts, nor are they good dead guys. Angels are spiritual beings who help God run the world and keep track of our lives. Angels have rankings. Ministering angels, like Gabriel and Michael, hold the highest rank. Guardian angels are with each of us, cheering us on or ratting us out, depending on how we act.

Angels represent the idea that God appears to us in forms we can comprehend, but ultimately, angels are just part of the complex mystery of God's providence. One can believe or not believe in angels and still believe in God. I believe in both angels and God.

Demons are spiritual beings who were never people. They're the seducers of people and our enemies because, according to legend, they were the angels who didn't want God to create us in the first place. Demons can possess a person's soul and cause all sorts of havoc.

I believe in demons, but I also believe that in more primitive times, mental illness was seen as demonic possession. The main religious teaching about demons is that you have nothing to fear from them because they were made by God, and if you just stay on the yellow brick road and don't wander into the magic forest with the flying monkeys you'll be fine (or something along those lines).

I believe in both angels and demons because I believe God's presence in the world is a source of both life and death, fear and salvation. Ghosts are another matter. Ghosts are supposedly the souls of dead people "trapped" in this world, unable to proceed to their final destinations in heaven or hell. Both Judaism and Christianity hold to the belief that ghosts are not real because souls can't linger in the world after death. According to Hebrews 9:27, our destiny is to die once and then face judgment.

The Hebrew Bible doesn't allow consulting with psychics, who supposedly speak to the dead. Doing so is a capital sin (Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 18:10-12). The reason for these prohibitions on psychic tourism is not immediately clear. Is the problem that ghosts are not real, or that ghosts are real but we should stay away from them and from people who claim to speak to them? While this isn't clear, it doesn't matter.

Consulting the dead is a sin. Tommy (Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman to you) and I fought about this for years. Tommy thought consulting the dead through psychics helped grieving people find comfort (though he knew and supported the Church's teachings). I felt most psychics were charlatans using grief to extract money from vulnerable people.

I saw a psychic once tell a room of 50 grieving Italian Catholics, "I'm hearing a Maria come through to me." Immediately, 48 hands went up saying, "That's my Maria!" Seriously, I believe that consulting with ghosts or spirits wherever they reside is a spiritual boundary mistake. We're in the world of the living until we die, and our total focus must be on this world. While we may believe death is not the end of us, the world after death is none of our concern now.

Send questions to The God Squad, c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or e-mail them to

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