Disembodied spirits

A prominent exorcist, Father Gary Thomas, gave a talk at UNC, which you can find on YouTube here.


1:03:00 in, he says that a deceased spirit can linger because someone’s inability to forgive them kept them bound to them. The story he gives is a woman who didn’t forgive her husband, and his spirit still lingers.

I suppose the popular conception of this would be a ghost with unfinished business. (I’m surprised that movies are actually right on the possibility of it.)

Here is the question. Why is it that? We know that a person is judged upon death, and goes to heaven, hell or purgatory. As far as Church Teaching is concerned, there is no allowance, insofar as I know, for God’s judgement to be that a person should be bound to earth. (If there is a relevant part of the Catechism that would refute that, I’ll be happy to be corrected.)

Also, the lack of forgiveness is a sin on the part of the living person, not the deceased. It seems odd that the dead person should be kept from heaven or purgatory because of someone else’s sin.

Would this be a state of suffering for the disembodied spirit? Is this a form of purgatory on earth? Or rather, is the person in purgatory but reaching out into our world? That seems like a possible explanation; we know of stories where Padre Pio was visited by people in purgatory. Still, it doesn’t seem to explain why the dead person suffers because his or her loved one didn’t forgive him or her.

Lastly, are there any other cases besides grudges where a dead person would be stuck as a disembodied spirit?


This might answer your question more thoroughly:


I think, though forgive me if I’m wrong because it’s been awhile since I read that article, that ghosts like that which you describe are probably in purgatory.

Well, this is very interesting. I’ll have to watch the talk.

When I returned to the church, I did quite a bit of searching about what the church’s views on the paranormal were. The understanding I have is that all souls are in heaven, hell, or purgatory.

Souls in heaven would never haunt someone or some place.

Souls in purgatory are permitted to appear to specific individuals, but this is a rare phenomenon. I guess I should reword that, as it is technically more like God showing someone an image of the soul in purgatory. The purpose is to get that person to pray for the soul in purgatory. These specific scenarios seem to alway be experienced as seeing the deceased as motionless, with a shocked or frozen look on their face, and completely silent. The apparition is only seen for a brief time, and then vanishes.

Souls in hell are not permitted to haunt the earth, of course.

The disembodies spirits and other paranormal phenomena that are experienced as hauntings and whatnot are explained as demonic activity. A demon can stick around a person for his entire life and therefore know all about him, share all his memories (because he was there for them all), imitate his likeness, etc. So demons can pose as a deceased person to try and form an attachment to another living person.

So I’m quite surprised to hear what Fr Gary Thomas is saying here, because my understanding (up to this point, at least, and admittedly limited) is that the idea the soul of a deceased person being anywhere other than heaven, hell, or purgatory is against church teaching.

I’ll have to watch the talk and then look into this subject more deeply.

I would presume he means that the soul lingering is a purgatorial manifestation––something to which even the saints attest. But I have not watched Fr. Thomas’ video yet either.

Well, the post describes the soul as lingering and being bound to someone, which sounds much different than an apparition of someone in purgatory. But yeah, I still haven’t watched the talk yet, either, so you might very well be correct.

We can speculate all we want, but the fact is NO ONE knows exactly what happens upon our death, so anything is literally possible!

I understand what you are saying about someone spirit being held here on someone elses account, this does not seem to make sense, but it may be that person/spirit had something god wanted them to finish before they can leave our world…I certainly believe this and anything is really possible, as God can choose to do anything he likes, we wont know the details until we are dead.

Also remember that the bible does not tell us everything, its not an encyclopedia, and was not meant to be read as one, so of course there are going to be things we cannot understand or know about. God also told us we dont know everything and dont need to.

I understand - although, even if the “apparition” appeared bound to someone, I would not necessarily presume that was an exact depiction of what was “happening” in purgatory, but rather could be a manifested equivalent of sorts that represents to the terrestrial witness some shadow of what occurs in the afterlife.

Yeah, I get what you’re saying.

In the portion of the talk in question, and the thing that struck me was that Fr Gary Thomas said he explained to the woman that her inability to forgive her late husband has bound him to her.

Now that can be taken in a couple of ways. One way could be that her lack of forgiveness has created created a spiritual shackle or sorts, and that her late husband’s spirit cannot move on of his own power.

Another way could be that the husband is currently in purgatory, but God has allowed these apparitions in order to help her come to grips with the understanding that she needs to forgive him for her own spiritual health. (The husband had mental illness issues, so her anger and blame were misplaced.)

I’m inclined to believe the latter, but the way he presented the story really did sound like the former. He also went on to talk about the conspiracy theories involving the illuminati (secret satanic orginization working to take over the world) as simple fact, which I’m not sure what to think about. Oh, and in the beginning he mentioned that he uses a psychic in his exorcisms and that there are plenty of people out there with such gifts. So right now I’m kind of getting that “this guy watches to much cable TV” impression, but I’m conflicted because he’s a priest, so I’m wanting to trust his authority, as well.

Right, which is why Catholics don’t believe in “Scripture Alone”.

A psychic is a medium, and I’m pretty certain, disallowed under Church Law.
I could be wrong. :shrug:

I don’t think “psychic” is the right word. But there have been saints who could sense demons. Apparently it’s more common than we know.

But with regard to the priest, he was trained at a Vatican-sponsored seminar and apprenticed to another exorcist. He’s now like America’s Gabriele Amorth.

I do believe he’s right about the illuminati because Father Thomas has become the country’s most visible exorcist, and a lot of people go to him for help. Therefore, he is in the know about these occult things because he hears about it from them. It’s not a departure from Church Teaching that people do make pacts with the devil for riches and fame.

Read the book The Rite. It’s very informative.

I think the question should be, how do these people even have these abilities? Did God give them this gift at birth, even though the CC says its not right to use it?

Im referring to those that actually have this talent and not fakers btw.

If we draw a parallel with Padre Pio, then God gave them that ability.

The earth bound disembodied spirit statements seem contrary to Catholic teaching.

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately,595 – or immediate and everlasting damnation.596

Good thoughts. Another option could be that the husband could be in heaven, hell, or purgatory, and that his “apparition” is permitted to appear to the woman as a spiritual help for her to learn to forgive.

I think this is correct. Although an “apparition” is not necessarily a spirit itself, but an image that terrestrial persons are permitted to see.

Father Thomas does not use the term “apparition”’ He says disembodied spirit which is bound to earth due a spouse’s unforgiveness.

And — Father Thomas says that he advised the spouse to visualize her arms pushing her husband up to Jesus’ arms. I am unclear why he advised a visualization technique. Visualizing something does nothing to make it happen. New age and other cults believe that visualization is a magical technique. I hope Father is not recommending that???

Sounds more like a form of meditative prayer, asking God to receive him.

I saw the video a while ago. It did not clarify for me what, if it exists, demonic possession would be all about or what distinguishes it from psychiatric illness.
There are a number of recordings of presumably possessed people out there, but to me they seem to present individuals who have emotional, dissociative sorts of reactions. That is not to say that these not uncommon phenomena, or other problems such as addictions aren’t related to some sort of possession.

There were three things that struck me as unusual in that video.

  • the explanation of apparitions. To me these experiences seem to be more hallucinations and projections of the conflicts belonging to the persons who see them. I personally doubt that there is a spirit present in the space where the spectre appears. The person letting go of their resentments would free themselves and thereby get rid of the “apparition”. Having said that, it might in turn go on to help the other becase at that point one could pray for their soul in purgatory. But there is probably more to this, given what has been described of soldiers’ experiences in the trenches during WWI.
  • the comment about the Illuminati. His information apparently came from people he had been asked to see. People have made similar and believeable accusations about cults such as the Church of Scientology, but the Illuminati? seriously?
  • his advice to avoid Reiki as it may be a way for spirits to possess a person. I think it is a sort of placebo. Perhaps some people would take its superstitious-like explanations seriously, leading them away of reality. The problem wouldn’t be with that activity, but rather with the person. I don’t know, but a lot of people subscribe to it as being helpful. Again, here he seemed to be expressing an opinion based on a couple of experiences with people who had been evidently possessed.

Fr Thomas is a good speaker, but I found I did not gain much from his talk.

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