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MASCOUTAH • A Metro East Catholic priest was charged Tuesday with 16 felony child porn charges, along with a count of meth possession.

Authorities got an online tip about Hechenberger and launched an investigation that included search warrants, online investigation and surveillance. A search warrant was served Monday morning at the Holy Childhood rectory. Several electronic devices were seized, and Hechenberger was arrested.

He was found in possession of several child porn images and videos that depict children younger than 13, police said. Hechenberger also had less than 5 grams of meth.

On Tuesday, Hechenberger was charged with eight counts of dissemination of child pornography, eight counts of possession of child pornography and one count of possession of methamphetamine.

It is unknown if Hechenberger produced any of the images himself, or if he has had any inappropriate contact with children directly, authorities said. Belleville police said parents or guardians should speak to their children if they had any contact with Hechenberger and immediately report any suspicious conduct.

Police said Hechenberger is the only person under investigation at Holy Childhood.

The Diocese of Belleville responded to Hechenberger’s arrest in a statement Monday. Monsignor John Myler, the media contact for the diocese, emailed the diocese’s statement to the Post-Dispatch but was not immediately available after charges were filed Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a very serious matter for Father Hechenberger,” the statement from Monday said. “At this point, the 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. Beyond requesting your prayers for Father Hechenberger, the Diocese will make no further comment at this time.”

The Post-Dispatch reported in 2011 that Hechenberger abruptly took a leave of absence as priest at St. John the Baptist parish in Smithton. A letter circulated by the Belleville diocese at the time said he was taking the leave to address “very serious personal, pastoral and legal challenges.”

The letter, sent to priests and deacons, didn’t directly state the source of the challenges. Myler could not be reached Tuesday to clarify what those challenges were or how they were resolved.

Hechenberger wrote in a parish bulletin at the time that he was depressed and seeking treatment, according to a 2011 report from the Belleville News-Democrat.

"The medicines the doctors have me on make me very tired and some days it is a struggle to just get out of bed. As a consequence, I don't feel that I am giving you the amount of pastoral care that you deserve," the letter stated.

Hechenberger wrote that he was not resigning, but taking a leave of absence.

"I told (Bishop Edward Braxton) that I would like to take some time off from my regular priestly duties and find a good counselor or wellness program to join," Hechenberger wrote.

Hechenberger was ordained in 1996, according to a diocese directory.

Erin Heffernan is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.