The Incredible Story of the Pastor Who Pretended to Have Cancer – The Good Men Project

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Once upon a time, Planetshakers Church was a serious rival to Hillsong for the title of the largest megachurch in Australia. At its peak, Planetshakers church was a multicampus juggernaut with thousands of faithful attendees. It ran conferences for tens of thousands of young people across the entire nation. And, at one time, it was pumping out more worship albums than Hillsong Music. Heck, the first winner of Australian Idol was a Planetshakers worship leader named Guy Sebastian, who still plies his trade as a pop musician.
From the outside, looking in, Planetshakers Church looked and sounded seriously ‘cutting edge’ with its bright lights and smoke machines. But without a doubt, the poster child of the Planetshakers movement was Mike Gugliemucci. To impressionable teenage me, he seemed like the coolest guy in the world. He stood up the front, with slicked-back hair, playing the bass guitar. And it was he who wrote many of Planetshakers biggest hit worship songs.
We would sing his songs in our own, much smaller, less significant church in the suburbs of outer Brisbane, though we never quite did them justice. No one could be as cool as Mike Gugliemucci. That’s what I felt as a young person. Best of all, he made Christianity seem cool as well — ripped jeans, distorted rock music, and a way of talking that made it feel like all the kids outside the church were the ones who were missing out. Mike Guglimucci was a hero.
Then one day, we found out about his cancer.
The entire Christian community — even the ultra-conservative types who would usually look down the nose at Gugliemucci’s style — were shocked. Mike Gugliemucci had been struck with an aggressive and advanced form of cancer — terminal cancer. A young, up-and-coming preacher had been struck down in his prime.
I was devastated.
Our church prayed for him.
From that moment on, there was a noticeable shift in Gugliemucci’s ministry. He began to preach like a dying man, inspiring an entire generation of young and old Christians not to give up in the face of adversity but to trust God.
He would boldly declare that he believed that God would heal him, and if not, he was ready to meet Him face to face. His bold and faith-filled preaching caused his star to rise even higher. He became one of the most in-demand speakers on the Christian preaching circuit, going from church to church to share his message of hope.
He would bring people to tears with his heartbreaking and inspiring story, and his rock music gave way to ballads of hope and mournful reflections on the coming deliverance of God, or death — whichever came first.
I will never forget when Mike Gugliemucci appeared as a guest at Hillsong Church, singing his hit song — entitled “Healer,” written especially for those who were suffering from cancer. The song was so big it debuted at Number 2 on Australia’s secular ARIA Charts generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties.
By this time, news of Guglielmucci’s “diagnosis” was common knowledge in Christian circles and beyond, and there was a foreboding sense that it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to his “illness.”
That’s why it was so remarkable for him to appear on stage at Hillsong Church, worship-leading with an oxygen tube connected to his nose, apparently struggling to breathe, while he dolefully banged out the lyrics of his hit song:
Here is a video of that now infamous Hillsong moment:

And, oh, it felt like his final show. Everyone in the crowd that night believed they were listening to the last song from a dying man — body ravaged with cancer — still full of faith despite his illness. People wept openly, believing the curtain was falling on a life snuffed out too soon. An insidious disease was snatching away a man of great faith, and yet he could stand on a stage with an oxygen mask on and declare to God, “You’re my healer!”
What incredible faith! Inspiring!
The only thing was… He didn’t have cancer at all.
He had made it all up.
It was a Sunday afternoon when I called an emergency meeting with our worship team at church. The news had just broken. Mike Guglimucci had “come clean.”
Emotions were running high. That night, we had one of Guglimucci’s worship songs scheduled for our church worship set list, and now we were caught in a robust debate about whether we should cut the song from the playlist.
In the end, we did.
We felt betrayed. And we were left with a prevailing question. It hung in the air like a bad smell. Why? Why on earth would anyone — a pastor, no less — pretend to have cancer and then write a hit song for cancer patients?
Predictably, Hillsong Church moved to distance themselves from Gugliemucci and removed his song, “Healer,” from their album. Planetshakers Church was allegedly left thoroughly embarrassed by its wayward pastor’s antics. To its credit, it ordered Gugliemucci down to the local police station to make a full and proper confession…. which he did… kinda…
The Australian Christian Churches stripped Gugliemucci of his credentials as a pastor and announced that all proceeds from his music would be donated to charity.
For over two years, Gugliemucci had pretended to have Cancer, deceiving millions. But, the most remarkable thing about the story is that his entire family, even his wife, were utterly oblivious to Gugliemucci’s deception. Reportedly, each time he went to the hospital for “treatment,” he would either go alone or convince his partner to wait in the car. And he would send fake emails to his own parents from non-existent medical practitioners.
Gugliemucci was never charged with any crime. Apparently, lying and stupidity are not criminal offenses. However, after an attack of conscience, Gugliemucci sought to set the record straight by appearing on a national current affair program to “explain his actions” and ask the nation for forgiveness.
You can watch the full interview here or skip to the below for a summary.

In his one and only interview, Gugliemucci confessed that he concocted the cancer diagnoses story to mask his addiction to internet pornography.
He says, in the interview: “Growing up in a Christian home, being involved in a Christian youth group, and even in ministry, there was a great level of shame attached to that.”
Sure. I can buy that. However, I’m still a bit stumped on the connection between pornography and the need to invent a story about having cancer. He offered a tearful apology and vowed, “From this day onwards, I am telling the truth.”
No one believed a word.
I don’t think it’s too wild a suggestion to say that no one in their right mind would pretend to have cancer and intentionally deceive their family, friends, and community. Therefore, I suggest that Mike Gugliemucci was not in his right mind, either.
So, who am I to judge?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Gugliemucci isn’t culpable for his actions. However, there is a bigger narrative at play here, and it involves the church.
It is pretty clear that Mike Gugliemucci never felt emotionally safe enough in church to ever come clean about his legitimate struggles as a human being. He obviously had issues of addiction, sexual shame, and, most likely, mental health challenges — none of which he ever brought to the church. And why not?
Because he felt that if the people in his church knew about his struggles and sin, he would surely be rejected. And, truth be told, there is a reasonable chance he would have. He may not have been able to articulate it at the time, but Gugliemucci understood that to belong to his church system, he had to behave in certain ways. Being honest about his deviation from the behavioral expectations of cultural Christianity would not have ended well for him. So, he suppressed what was really going on to maintain the facade of “togetherness.” And in the end, it got the better of him.
What a shame that Gugliemucci could not find a safe haven in the church to be honest about his shame, sin, and struggles. But, he isn’t the only one. Would you feel safe sharing your secret sins with the church? Would you feel comfortable falling to pieces, in an emotional sense, in the church? Many would think that too risky. So, we behave to belong.
It shouldn’t be this way. Give me a church where I can be real, and I’ll be there this Sunday.
In the meantime, here is the moral of the story for all of us: Whatever we fail to process in ourselves, we will project onto others eventually. Whatever we don’t transform in ourselves, we will transmit as dysfunction. Suppression only works for so long. Inevitably, we will act out in some way.
Therefore, Guglimucci is both a villain and a victim.
After almost 15 years in obscurity, Mike Gugliemucci is back!
Together with his wife (yes, she stuck around), they have launched a brand new charity called Lighthouse City Mission. Its website reports that the purpose of the charity is“to provide free food, clothing, and a community of support for people who need it.”
In the Daily Telegraph, Gugliemucci was reported as saying, “We believe people are more than the mistakes they make … Thirteen years ago, after the reality of my brokenness was made public, our marriage went through a time of separation. I am so aware of the pain my past decisions have caused others, and I will never run and hide from that.”
Some will be cynical about Gugliemucci’s reappearance in the public sphere. But, I believe in second chances. I believe in allowing people to make good from their past disgraces. After all, failure is an event. It’s not a person.
If I am accused of being far too gracious, that’s okay with me. They accused Jesus of the same. I say that Gugliemucci has “done his time” in the wilderness, and I am happy to welcome him back.
I might even give a few dollars to his charity.
If I do, though, I will be keeping a close eye on their financial records.

This post was previously published on Backyard Church.
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Filed Under: Ethics & Values, Featured Content
Poet & Writer, Husband & Father
learning life’s lessons in the classroom of pain
And writing them down for others to gain

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