Metro East priest facing more than 15 child pornography charges

Belleville Detectives continue to investigate Gerald Hechenberger (CREDIT: Belleville PD)

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A former southern Illinois priest who pleaded guilty last year to distributing child pornography and processing methamphetamine was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison.

Gerald Hechenberger formerly pastored Holy Childhood Catholic Church in Mascoutah. He was arrested at the church in January 2018 after police received a tip from the organization Internet Crimes Against Children. Investigators seized electronic devices and found drug paraphernalia, methamphetamine and several images and videos of child pornography in the priest’s possession.

Prosecutors say none of the children depicted in the pornography were southern Illinois residents.

During his sentencing hearing, Hechenberger said he was sorry for his conduct, saying he has ``never been abusive or inappropriate to anyone of any age.” He said his behavior was a result of a ``perfect storm” of mental health issues, drug use, hyper-sexual thoughts and grief after the 2014 death of his father.

Judge Zina Cruse said she believed Hechenberger was sorry, but added he "exhibited a desire to see others abuse prepubescent children.”

In a statement Tuesday, Holy Childhood School reassured the public all children at the school "have been and are safe and protected.”

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