Metro-East News

The Mascoutah church community is ‘heartbroken’ after priest’s arrest, pastor says

The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger
The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger

In response to the Holy Childhood Catholic Church associate pastor facing child porn charges, the Mascoutah church’s pastor sent parishioners a letter stating counselors are available to students at the parish’s school Thursday.

The Rev. Paul R. Wienhoff, the pastor at Holy Childhood Catholic Church, said the church community was “heartbroken” after learning of the criminal charges against the Rev. Gerald Hechenberger, who was associate pastor at the church.

Hechenberger was charged with 16 counts of child pornography and one count of possession of meth Tuesday. He was taken into custody Monday and his bail was set at $2 million. He remains in the St. Clair County Jail.

“We understand the range of emotions and concerns that we all share,” Wienhoff stated in the letter. “The safety of the each child at Holy Childhood School has always been and continues to be our number one priority.”

In the letter, Wienhoff said Hechenberger “interacted with the school children at Mass,” but his interaction with children at the school was “limited and infrequent.”

“We understand that the circumstances pertaining to this situation could cause stress or anxiety for our children; therefore, we have arranged for counselors” to be available, Wienhoff said in the letter.

Likewise, Hechenberger’s interaction with children in the church’s Parish School of Religion program held Sundays during the school year was extremely limited. The program’s coordinator Wendy Uhl said Hechenberger had one interaction with students in the Parish School of Religion last year.

The church planned to conduct a healing service at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the church at 419 E. Church St., according to the pastor’s letter.

Parents with any concerns are asked to call the rectory at 618-566-2958.

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