MASCOUTAH, IL – An associate pastor at the Holy Childhood Church and School in Mascoutah was taken into custody Monday, according to the Catholic Diocese of Belleville. Members of the church said Fr. Gerald Hechenberger was taken into custody.
A statement from the Diocese reads in part, “This is a very serious matter for Father Hechenberger. At this point, this Diocese has no reason to believe that any parishioners are affected by this matter. The Diocese is awaiting an update on information from the civil authorities and has assured them of the Diocese’s full cooperation”.
No charges had been filed as of Monday evening. Belleville Police said the investigation began with a cyber-tip from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The tip suggested child porn was being distributed in the Mascoutah area.
Hechenberger resigned from a church in Smithton in 2011. At that time church officials said he resigned to address, “very serious personal, pastoral and legal challenges.”
Some church members we talked with asked not be identified. One said she hopes the accusations turn out to be false. Another member said sadly she was not surprised. She said learning about Hechenberger’s 2011 resignation leads her to believe something was wrong.
The Diocese statement concluded by saying, “Beyond requesting your prayers for Father Hechenberger, the Diocese will make no further comment at this time.”
Police plan on meeting with prosecutors Tuesday. More details will be released if charges are filed.