Illinois Priest Arrested On Child Porn, Meth Charges

The 54-year-old's bond has been set at $2 million.

Gerald Hechenberger.
Belleville Police

The 54-year-old's bond has been set at $2 million.

A Catholic priest in Illinois has been charged with multiple counts of child pornography and drug possession.

According to a report by the Belleville News-Democrat, Reverend Gerald R. Hechenberger, 54, was charged Tuesday, January 9 with seven counts of possession of child pornography (photographs) and one count of possessing a pornographic video of a child. The children depicted in the material were under the age of 13, police allege.

Hechenberger was also charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine.

Officials in Belleville say Hechenberger was charged as part of an investigation involving the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

The task force’s investigation led to multiple search warrants executed online and at Holy Childhood Church in the town of Mascoutah, Illinois, on Monday, January 8. Police seized several electronic devices containing pornographic images and videos, methamphetamines, and drug paraphernalia, according to published reports.

Hechenberger was arrested and taken to the Belleville Police Department before he was booked into the St. Clair County Jail. Initial bail has been set at $2 million.

Police say the investigation is continuing into whether the priest had alleged inappropriate contact with children or produced images himself.

“Although Belleville Police do not have knowledge of any additional victims, we release this information and encourage parents to speak to their children if they had any contact with Hechenberger. Parents or guardians should immediately report any suspicions to the Belleville Police Department,” the release said.

Parents of students at Holy Childhood School were notified Monday that Hechenberger was “being investigated.”

It was also learned that Hechenberger took a leave of absence from his previous position as a priest at the St. John the Baptist parish in Smithton, Illinois.

While Belleville Diocese officials would not divulge details of why the priest took the leave, they reported that Hechenberger was facing “very serious personal, pastoral and legal challenges.”

Hechenberger said in a 2011 letter published in a church bulletin that he was battling depression, adding, “I don’t feel that I am giving you the amount of pastoral care that you deserve.”

Whether anyone else at Holy Childhood is under investigation is not clear, although church officials say Hechenberger is the sole suspect. Bishop Edward K. Braxton released a statement on Monday, saying the diocese vows to cooperate with the investigation.

In Illinois, the majority of child pornography cases are Class 1 felonies, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Some possession of child pornography cases are considered Class 3 felonies, a slightly lesser offense. Aggravated child pornography offenses are Class X felonies, with sentencing ranging of six to 30 years.

Illinois law requires those convicted in child pornography cases to register in the Illinois Sex Offender Database maintained by the state police. Offenders must register every year and when they move for a period of at least 10 years that begins the day they are sentenced to probation or the day they’re released from prison.