An email today outlines some of the problems with the Catholic Church today:

I read the article you wrote for This Rock re. the supernatural. I was somewhat disappointed because I live in a house that was once haunted(by human spirits, not demons). I wanted to learn the Churches teaching on paranormal activity, and was disappointed to find very little. I got no help from Catholic clergy. My first clue that I was not alone in my house was an ashtray slid away from me when I was going to grab it to clean it. I began to hear sounds of activity in other parts of the house when no one was there. Once a houseguest saw several apparitions of children in his room. I saw ghosts several times, and once heard a male voice call my name. I could go on… I told my grandmother who believed me and gave me blessed salt. With no instructions or clergy help, I went into every room, praying and sprinkling pinches of salt into every corner. That was the end of the activity, then. So, why are Catholic priests so reticent- scared?- to help folks- and what is the teaching on the church on paranormal activity?

Here is what should be an infrequent, but perfectly normal and acceptable pastoral situation for a priest, but the priests he asked either didn’t know what to do or dismissed him as a loony. I am increasingly amazed at the incompetence and ignorance of many of my fellow Catholic priests.

A priest’s job is to be an interface with the supernatural. We should know about the paranormal, demons, ghosts and angels. While we don’t obsess about it or go looking for weird stuff like characters in a sci-fi TV show–we should, in a down to earth and simple way, know what to do with such problems.

We should know how to deal with the mentally ill, have basic skills in discerning the difference between mental and emotional disturbance, spiritual experiences, the demonic and the paranormal. We should have at least a basic grasp of what to do and how to do it. When weird stuff happens we should be able to sift through it and offer assistance in the spiritual realm.

I am regularly asked about this stuff and we get regular calls to deal with disturbances in homes and sometimes with people. Of course there are often aspects of mental or emotional disturbance as well as spiritual disturbance. Usually it is dealt with by blessing the house with holy water and saying the Lord’s Prayer with an emphasis on “deliver us from evil”.

The simple fact is that too many priests don’t believe in this stuff, and yet this is the kind of situation where it is most obvious that prayer works. Most of the time it’s not big and it’s not scary. I remember meeting Dr Kenneth McCall, the famous exorcist and author of Healing the Family Tree at a conference. A group of excitable women were all worried about a house in their parish where witches once lived which was now infested with evil spirits. They wanted a big movie style exorcism. Dr McCall said calmly, “In most cases all that is required is for a group of Christians to meet together in the place, sprinkle holy water and join their hands in praying the Lord’s Prayer.”

The same commenter said his mother had some experiences of the dark side too:

 My mother lived in a house that was ‘haunted’ in Sicily but this was much worse.  Although it would appear the house was conventionally haunted, she began to be sexually attacked at night.  One time she saw it, it was undescribably frightening and had glowing red eyes.  She told her priest about it and he believed her.  She was instructed to go to confession and attend mass and receive Holy Communion for nine days, at a time when the sacrament was received infrequently.  She was delivered from her ordeal.

Ghosts and other paranormal entities do exist, but understanding the difference between them, psychological disturbances or demonic activity is not always easy and there is much about the unseen realm that we simply do not understand. We don’t understand that realm because, naturally, it operates according to a different set of rules and a different logic. Going there is like going to another planet or another world. We don’t know the language, the geography or the residents.

Nevertheless, a Catholic priest is one person who is supposed to be the best travel guide there is. People expect this. Here in the South it’s amazing how many times people will call my office for help with a paranormal experience. When I ask them why they didn’t call their Bible Church pastor or Baptist minister they’ll say, “Oh, I did, but he just told me to say some Bible verses and it didn’t help” or “Oh he doesn’t know about this stuff. You gotta call a Catholic priest for stuff like this.”

I try not to disappoint them, so when I turn up I usually wear my full black cassock and carry a big book, crucifix, rosary and a big brass aspergilium.

It’s a good way to evangelize…

My friend Paul Thigpen has written and excellent article on the Catholic teaching about ghosts. Go here to read it.