Metro-East News

Sister posts bond for priest accused of having child porn after judge reduces bail

The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger
The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger

The sister of a Mascoutah priest accused of possessing child pornography posted his $25,000 bond Friday after a judge significantly reduced the man’s $2 million bail last week.

The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger, associate pastor of Holy Childhood Church in Mascoutah, was booked into jail Jan. 9 on 16 charges of child pornography and one charge of possession of methamphetamine.

Jail personnel confirmed Monday morning the 54-year-old priest was no longer in custody as of Friday and a bail bond receipt shows a woman named Nancy E. Rueter posted the $25,000 bond.

A 2014 obituary for Hechenberger’s father, Edward Hechenberger, published in the BND indicates Rueter is Hechenberger’s sister. Public records show Rueter is 64 and has lived in Belleville for over 30 years.

A St. Clair County judge significantly reduced the man’s $2 million bail Wednesday to $250,000.

Now that Hechenberger is out of jail, he must follow a list of conditions set forth by Judge Randall Kelley. Those include living at a specific residence, refraining from all contact with children 16 and younger, avoiding all electronic devices with Internet access, submitting to drug and alcohol testing and abiding by a pretrial curfew of 5 p.m.

Hechenberger will also not be allowed to make contact with parishioners from Holy Childhood Church, St. Pancratius Parish in Fayetteville and St. Liborius Parish in St. Libory. When arrested, Hechenberger was serving as associate pastor at those three parishes. Since his arrest, Diocese of Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton has stripped Hechenberger of his priest duties.

An order filed by Kelley noted that prosecutors objected to the bond reduction.

Police documents previously obtained by the BND detailed the investigation into Hechenberger. Investigators say the priest used an email address with the prefix “subpigboy4u” to exchange images via the internet, paid to join porn-sharing sites, had leather chaps in his possession when arrested and sent messages to others seeking to exchange pornography.

011118snDefendPriest
Anne Hannigan is a lifelong friend of the Rev. Gerald Hechenberger and spoke on his behalf earlier this month during an interview. Steve Nagy snagy@bnd.com

Hechenberger went to Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, as did his longtime friend and Belleville attorney Anne Hannigan. She spoke out in support of the priest shortly after he was charged, blaming the drugs and arguing that he did not have a sexual interest in children but simply got mixed up with the wrong people.

Church officials have declined interviews with the BND, but have released statements addressing the charges. In addition, they have spoken to their parishioners during services, telling them to pray for patience and let the legal process expose the truth.

Braxton file
Diocese of Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton By Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

Parishes heard from Braxton at Masses on Jan. 20 and 21 when a three-page letter written by Braxton was read aloud.

Braxton met with Hechenberger in jail and relayed a message from the accused priest.

“He asked me to express to all of you how deeply remorseful he is for the pain, confusion, frustration, and anger that he has caused you and everyone in the Diocese,” Braxton wrote. “He specifically asked me to tell you that he has never physically harmed or abused a child in any circumstance throughout his years of ministry. He wanted me to assure you of his prayers for you and he asks that you pray for him as well. Obviously, considering the seriousness of his offense, he is aware that some of you might find his expressions of sorrow and regret to be insufficient to warrant your forgiveness, or even your prayers.”

Hechenberger is scheduled for an arraignment Feb. 2.

Prosecutors presented the case to a grand jury for a possible indictment. An indictment, which is a more formal type of charge, does not require a preliminary hearing to be held for a defendant.

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