Chart-topping pastor's cancer lie

Sharon Smith
Today Tonight

It could have been the answer to a prayer.

A young man, struck down in the prime of life with a terminal illness, writes a song expressing his faith that God will heal him and calls on believers to use the power of prayer. And that song becomes a runaway hit, inspiring thousands of believers.

The young man is 29-year-old Mike Guglielmucci, originally from Adelaide, now based in Sydney. For the past two years he's used his ailment to spread his inspirational messages in churches across Australia, including one of the country's biggest churches, Hillsong in Sydney.

His story and word of his courage has spread across the world, but the only problem is, it's not true. Mike Guglielmucci isn't dying of cancer - the whole story was a lie.

For two years, he convinced the world, including those closest to him, he was dying of cancer. Now, he's decided to confess all, saying he was plagued with guilt and got caught up in his own web of lies.

His family has been left reeling over his confession, including devastated father Danny, who founded the Edge Church in Adelaide.

"We had no idea. We only grieved. That's what we did - we grieved at the possible loss of a son," he said.

Thinking his son was dying, Mr Guglielmucci Snr had even begun to plan his son's funeral.

Michael Guglielmucci admitted going to great lengths to keep up the charade which deceived his wife and his mother, sending phony emails from non-existent medical practitioners. He maintained the subterfuge by having them drop him off at the hospital - but never accompany him inside.

And his fraudulent performances before thousands came complete with oxygen bottle and mask, which fuelled his congregation's emotions of sympathy and prayer.

But he does say he did have unexplained symptoms virtually all his life and while the diagnosis was bogus, he insists those symptoms were real.

However, thousands were conned and bought his song on CD and through iTunes, the album reaching number two on the ARIA charts. With so many people sucked in by the story, royalties are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Alex Saint is a former member of the Edge Church. He donated money to Michael Guglielmucci's cause, and feels betrayed by his deception.

"It really hurts me just personally. I guess seeing my mum go through cancer and having died from it," he said.

Alun Davies is Vice President of Australian Christian Churches, the denomination to which Mr. Guglielmucci belongs.

"We're receiving calls now from every continent of the world, basically, because Michael's influence was very widespread," he said.

Although he can understand why some would feel betrayed, if not outraged by Michael Guglielmucci's actions, he's urging forgiveness.

But Mr Guglielmucci admits it's not the first time he's deceived his nearest and dearest - all in order to cover up a fondness for pornography. He knows it's something people outside the church may not understand. What connection an obsession with pornography has to perpetrating such a fraud on the faithful, is hard to fathom.

His father addressed his shattered congregation, confessing his son's sins and has promised to somehow make good the money so dishonestly acquired.

Michael Guglielmucci is now having psychiatric and other medical tests, to work out what - if anything - is wrong with him. He's been asked to donate the song royalties to charity, while this week, his lawyer contacted police.

"We will do whatever has to put this right, and if that's what we have to do, that's what we'll do," his father said.

"I'm so sorry. Not just for lying to my friends and my family, even about a sickness, but I'm sorry for a life of saying I was something when I'm not," Michael Guglielmucci said.