An associate pastor at Roman Catholic churches in Illinois faces 16 felony child porn charges as well as a methamphetamine possession charge, authorities said.
The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger, 54, who serves at three parishes in St. Clair County, Ill., east of St. Louis, was arrested Monday after a search warrant was executed at a church rectory in Mascoutah, Ill, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Hechenberger was charged with “eight counts of dissemination of child pornography, seven counts of possession of child pornography (photos), one count of possession of child pornography (video) and possession of methamphetamine,” the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
Bond for Hechenberger has been set at $2 million, FOX2 Now in St. Louis reported.
The Belleville Police Department said they received a tip from Internet Crimes Against Children that said a person in the area was “distributing child pornography.” The department said they received search warrants in relation to the tip. On Monday, detectives executed the search warrant at the church and said they discovered drug paraphernalia, images of child pornography and meth. They also took a few electronic devices. The department said the victims in the images were under the age of 13.
The department said they were not sure if Hechenberger took the pictures of the underage children himself.
“It is unknown at this time if Hechenberger produced any of the images himself, or if he has had any inappropriate contact with children directly,” the press release from the department stated. “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.”
Police confirmed Hechenberger was the only person at the church being investigated.
Bishop Edward K Braxton of the Belleville Diocese said the situation was serious and the diocese was cooperating with police. Parents of students at the Holy Childhood School were informed of Hechenberger’s arrest.
Hechenberger was also an associate pastor at St. Liborius Parish and St. Pancratius Parish.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported Hechenberger took a leave of absence when he was a pastor at St. John the Baptist in Smithton in 2011. At the time, the priest wrote a statement to the parish saying he was struggling with depression and needed to take some time off.
The investigation is continuing, police said.