Belleville priest pleads guilty to child pornography, meth possession

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A priest who served at several southern Illinois parishes has pleaded guilty to the distribution of child pornography and the possession of methamphetamine.

The Rev. Gerald Hechenberger faces up to 26 years in prison after pleading guilty last week to three counts of possessing pornographic photos of children and one count of possession of methamphetamine.

Hechenberger was arrested at Holy Childhood Church in Mascoutah by Belleville police on Jan. 8, 2018 after they received a tip from the organization Internet Crimes Against Children. He was stripped of his priestly duties the same day.

Authorities say investigators seized electronic devices and found drug paraphernalia, methamphetamine and several images and videos of child pornography in the priest’s possession.

The St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s office says none of the children depicted in the pornography were southern Illinois residents.

Hechenberger’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 14.