What is the Church's position on near-death experiences?


Should near-death experiences be treated in the same category as tarot cards, horoscopes, etc.? Is it, thus, sinful to read them? What are we to make of such accounts?


To my knowledge, the Church takes no position on near-death experiences. There is no apparent reason therefore to treat them as occult phenomena such as tarot cards and horoscopes, which are forbidden by the Church (cf. CCC 2116). Perhaps a more apt analogy would be to think of near-death experiences as similar to private revelation. Private revelation is binding upon no one except the person who receives it, and the person who receives a private revelation is not bound by it unless it is approved by the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the subject of private revelation:

Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium [Latin, “sense of the faithful”] knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations” (CCC 67).

In short, while it would not be problematic to read accounts of near-death experiences, a Catholic should remember that such accounts are not usually examined by the Church and should therefore be treated in a similar manner to unapproved private revelations: A Catholic might find spiritual benefit in reading accounts of near-death experiences, but he should not promote such accounts and should not consider himself or anyone else to be bound in conscience by the accounts in the same way that Catholics are bound by general public revelation.

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