Just before 11 a.m. on Sunday, Father Michael Panicali stepped up to a white marble pulpit and delivered a demented anti-vax homily in a Brooklyn community that was reporting the high COVID transmission rate of 161 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days.
According to the official statistics for that zip code—which covers the neighborhoods of Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and Brighton Beach—one in every five people have contracted COVID and one in 125 have died from it. Only 56 percent have had at least one shot of the vaccine, significantly lower than the city’s overall rate of 64 percent.
But here was Panicali using the morning Mass at St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church as an occasion to urge his parishioners to shun the shot.
“Be very careful about this vaccine,” he said. “If I were you, I would not touch it with a 10-foot pole. And I never will because it leads to complications.”
In fact, serious side effects from the vaccines are extremely rare. That did not stop Panicali from engaging in an extended delusion that he tried to spin as a tale of self-sacrifice.
“I'm going to go out on a limb here and say what needs to be said,” he told those in attendance. “I need you to pray for me as I take this bold and courageous step. I was ordained to be bold and courageous and to speak the truth.”
Back when Panicali was in the sixth grade, he raised his hand when the class was asked who wanted to be a priest, yet he had not been ordained until he was 42, in 2017. His vocation now had him speaking not truth, but dangerous distortions in a city that had lost more than 30,000 to the virus in a country where more than 630,000 have died.
The only way to stop the pandemic is the inoculation accompanied by mitigation, but here was Panicali, twisting and obscuring the truth to persuade his flock to resist vaccine mandates.
“My brothers and sisters, you are under absolutely no obligation to take a vaccine that is made, produced, manufactured, tested even in the most remote ways with aborted, fetal cells,” he said. “Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
He said this even though the Diocese of Brooklyn was officially telling the faithful otherwise. A July 30 memo from the diocese to its clergy—Panicali among them—could not have been clearer as to how it stands on the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Please be aware that there is no religious exemption for Catholics as the Vatican has determined that the COVID-19 vaccines are morally acceptable,” it said.
Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio had even declared that getting the jab was his primary New Year’s resolution.
He wrote in a Jan. 6 article in the Catholic newspaper The Tablet that “there have been some questions posed by some regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine and the morality of the vaccine.”
But, the bishop wrote, “Science tells us the two vaccines now available to us in the United States — Pfizer and Moderna — are at the 95 percent level of effectiveness. Effectiveness meaning that the vaccines can mitigate the worst part of the contagion. Even if we should contract the virus, after getting the vaccine its effect will not be so severe.”
As for the moral question, DiMarzio said, “As you may know, vaccines are normally made from stem cells that come from aborted fetuses. In fact, the process for developing these two newest vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna never used stem cells to begin their study or production.”
The bishop reminded everybody that the pope had declared that receiving even vaccines made with stem cells from aborted fetuses is “morally permissible...when there are no other alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”
The bishop added “Clearly, the circumstances today present a serious threat to our health, not only to our own but to others around our nation and our world.”
But there was Panicali on Sunday, speaking nonsense in the name of an even higher authority than the bishop.
“Our ultimate answer and word is the word of Jesus Christ, who emphasizes that the flesh is important,” he said. “The flesh of aborted cells are important and they are not to be put into our body in any way, shape, or form. Do not let anyone confuse that for you.”
Pfizer and Moderna do not put cells of any kind in our bodies, but Panicali ignored that fact among others.
This was not the first time during his four years in the priesthood that Panicali had engaged in passionate untruths. He was in Washington, D.C., for the “Stop the Steal“ rally on Jan. 6 and afterwards offered his version of it in a letter to The Tablet.
“It is a truly sad day when hundreds of thousands of peaceful American citizens, young and old, go all the way to Washington, D.C. to tell our U.S. government that we want the Supreme Court to actually hear the evidence before being told it didn’t exist, to actually do the fact-checking to explain the really strange results, and that we want fair and free elections,” he said, baldly minimizing a violent attempt to stop the certification of a legitimate presidential election.
“It is truly sad when we, [the] prayerful people, are not shown, the thousands of us, and when we are labeled Trump-supporters instead of patriots; when the media only shows some activists (always present when any protest happens—think of all the recent protests!) who pushed their way into the Capitol building, and largely ignores the fatal shooting of an unarmed veteran of our country.”
He had the temerity to chide church higher-ups for condemning the events of Jan. 6.
“It is truly sad when Catholic leadership does not applaud the prayer, patriotism and goodwill of so many, and instead focuses on the actions of a select few, and places all of us in the same category, ” he wrote.
Nearly nine months later, Panicali had gone from the Capitol to a white marble pulpit in Brooklyn as he proceeded from one grand delusion to another. But now he was not just another protester. He was a priest presiding at Mass, someone to whom people look for guidance. He derided impending restrictions that will bar the unvaccinated from some public venues.
“We must look to the laws of God first and foremost,” he said. “If they're going to kick me out of a restaurant come September 13th, so be it. I can cook at home. And if they’re not going to allow me to go and buy groceries at the store because I’m unvaccinated, then so be it. I can grow my own vegetables and fruit. But I cannot grow my own human soul, and I cannot justify to God why I am possibly contributing or allowing an evil to take place?”
The only possible evil involved in a COVID vaccine is endangering others because you fail to get it. The reason Panicali’s bishop offered for getting the shot should be good enough for everybody who is eligible.
“For your own sake and for the sake of those around you,” DiMarzio said.
Panicali did not respond to a request for comment. The diocese replied with a circumspect email.
“Unfortunately, Father Panicali used a homily to express a personal opinion which is in conflict with the position of the Vatican and the Diocese of Brooklyn,” it said. “The issue will be addressed by diocesan officials.”
The email added, “The Diocese of Brooklyn has been seriously committed to addressing the spiritual and material needs of the faithful in the midst of this deadly pandemic.”
If that is true, the diocese will take some meaningful action to address this priest who uses Mass to spread what are not just personal opinions, but dangerous untruths when so many lives have been lost and so many more remain at stake.