Metro-East News

Trial date set for Mascoutah priest accused of having child pornography, meth

A trial date has been set for a Mascoutah priest arrested on charges of child pornography distribution and meth possession in January.

Rev. Gerald R. Hechenberger, associate pastor of Holy Childhood Church and school in Mascoutah, was charged with 16 counts of child pornography and one count of possession of meth in January.

His trial date was set for Oct. 8 at 8:45 a.m. at the St. Clair County Courthouse under Judge Zina Cruse.

On Jan. 8, Hechenberger was arrested at Holy Childhood Church by Belleville Police. Belleville Police Master Sgt. Todd Keilbach said detectives initiated the investigation based on a cyber tip from the organization Internet Crimes Against Children.

Police began an investigation that required “multiple search warrants, online investigative techniques and surveillance details,” according to Keilbach.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said in a previous interview authorities had not received any information indicating Hechenberger’s charges involved local children.

“If any parents or anyone else has information that is of concern to them, they should immediately report it to the Belleville Police Department,” Kelly said.

After Hechenberger’s arrest, Bishop Edward K. Braxton wrote a letter that was read to parishioners at weekend Masses. The letter stated no diocesan personnel had any knowledge that Hechenberger had “inappropriate images of minor children in his possession before the morning of his arrest.”

The Belleville Catholic Diocese has been largely silent on Hechenberger’s charges and arrest, prompting frustration from the community.

Braxton also wrote, “We have no record of any allegations of any prior possession of such materials,” and Hechenberger’s files “do not contain any concern in this regard or any documents suggesting past misconduct with minors.”

Hechenberger’s legal troubles date back more than two decades. He was cited twice in the 1980s for drunken-driving.

In 2004, Hechenberger pleaded guilty to a trespassing violation in Madison, where he was walking between trucks at a truck stop “holding his pants in his hand and had no shirt on,” according to the police report.

In 2011, Hechenberger abruptly left St. John’s Catholic Church in Smithton, where he was the pastor. In a letter in the church’s bulletin, he said he was leaving due to depression.

In response to Hechenberger’s departure in 2011, the Rev. John McEvilly, vicar general of the Belleville Diocese, wrote a letter stating the leave was to address “very serious personal, pastoral and legal challenges.”

It is not clear what legal challenges Hechenberger was facing.

Hechenberger’s sister posted his $25,000 bond in late January after a judge significantly reduced the man’s $2 million bail.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6
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