The Mascoutah priest who was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography has been placed on administrative leave and is no longer allowed to present himself as a priest to the public, according to a statement released Thursday by the Diocese of Belleville.
The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger was taken into police custody Monday and was charged with 16 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of possession of methamphetamine. He remained in the St. Clair County Jail on $2 million bail Thursday. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Hechenberger has been removed from pastoral appointments and is not allowed to perform any duties as a priest, according to the statement from the diocese. He was an associate pastor at the Holy Childhood Parish in Mascoutah, the St. Pancratius Parish in Fayetteville and St. Liborius Parish in St. Libory at the time of his arrest.
“We are aware that this is a very serious matter for Father Hechenberger and for anyone who may have been adversely affected by his behavior,” the Diocese said in the statement. “The Bishop asks the People of God in southern Illinois to pray for everyone whose lives are touched by these sad and painful events.”
Counselors were available at Holy Childhood Catholic School for students Thursday. A prayer service in the church was to be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Rev. Paul R. Wienhoff, pastor at Holy Childhood Catholic Church, said the church community was “heartbroken” at the news of Hechenberger’s arrest.
Hechenberger has jumped between multiple parishes during his time as a priest. His current role at churches in Mascoutah, Fayetteville and St. Libory is his fifth appointment since he was ordained in 1996.
Bishop Edward K. Braxton, of the Belleville diocese, issued a statement Monday regarding the allegations against Hechenberger.
“This is a very serious matter for Father Hechenberger. At this point, the diocese has no reason to believe that any parishioners are affected by this matter. The diocese is awaiting an update on information from the civil authorities and has assured them of the diocese’s full cooperation,” the statement read in part.
The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger’s history in the Catholic Church
- June 1996 — Ordained as a priest by Bishop Wilton Gregory
- July 1996 — Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Olney, Illinois, and St. Joseph Parish in Stringtown, Illinois
- February 1997 — Pastor of St. Edward Parish in Fairfield, Illinois, and St. Sebastian Parish in St. Sebastian, Illinois
- July 1999 — Pastor of Holy Family Parish in Cahokia and Sacred Heart Parish in Dupo
- January 2005 — On Sabbatical
- July 2006 — Pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Smithton
- January 2011 — Extended leave of absence
- August 2014 — Parochial Vicar at Holy Childhood Parish in Mascoutah; St. Pancratius Parish in Fayetteville and St. Liborius Parish in St. Libory
Information provided by the Diocese of Belleville