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Ex-priest with LI ties pleads guilty to child porn charge

Kenneth C. Hasselbach has been charged with possessing

Kenneth C. Hasselbach has been charged with possessing child pornography in Florida.

A retired Roman Catholic priest who was given early retirement amid allegations he molested a 12-year-old boy in East Meadow decades ago has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in Florida.

Kenneth Hasselbach, 69, formerly a priest at St. Raphael's in East Meadow and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Patchogue, was sentenced to 24 months in prison by a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale.

He was arrested a year ago after the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida said his two computers "contained images of young boys under the age of 18 either posing nude or engaging in sexual activity."

Last year, authorities said Hasselbach admitted he "chatted online with 14- and 15-year-old boys about their first sexual experiences."

Hasselbach, of Hollywood, Fla., was detained by authorities after he pleaded guilty Thursday and is awaiting placement to serve his term, said his attorney, Jeffrey M. Voluck.

At the sentencing, Hasselbach said he "was very, very sorry for what happened in his past" including when he was a priest, Voluck said. "He had a lot of remorse."

Judge Daniel Hurley recommended Hasselbach be sent to a prison that offers sex offender treatment, according to court papers.

Hasselbach was relieved of his pastoral duties and given early retirement in 1994 by the Diocese of Rockville Centre because of "medical issues," diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan has said. The year before, Robert Sammarco, a former altar boy at St. Raphael's, went public with allegations that Hasselbach had sexually molested him starting in the late 1960s.

In a 2002 interview with Newsday, Hasselbach admitted abusing Sammarco, but said Sammarco's version of the incidents "was a bit exaggerated." He did not elaborate. He also said he believed Sammarco was older than 12 or 13 at the time.

The diocese removed Hasselbach's priestly faculties in 2003. That meant he could no longer cannot celebrate Mass publicly, wear his collar or present himself as a priest, Dolan said. Hasselbach was never prosecuted because the five-year statute of limitations had expired.

Tuesday, Tim Echausse of the sex abuse victims group SNAP, said the diocese should have done more than simply allow Hasselbach to retire and move to another state.

"This was a sexual predator and the diocese did nothing to warn local communities of his presence," he said.

Dolan said he would have no further comment.