|Relief, Anger after Retired Priest Arrested
By Bart Jones
March 15, 2009
Robert Sammarco recalls how the priest would invite him to the beach in Mastic-Shirley, to New York City to see "Fiddler on the Roof," and even on a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico.
Then, back at the rectory in East Meadow after some outings, the priest, Kenneth Hasselbach, would sexually abuse Sammarco, sometimes in the shower, other times while "wrestling," Sammarco said.
The trauma Sammarco said he experienced as a teenager in the 1960s is resurfacing as Hasselbach faces new allegations - this time involving child pornography.
Last month Hasselbach, 68, of Hollywood, Fla., was arrested in Florida and charged with possessing child pornography on his two computers. In a statement, the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida said Hasselbach "admitted that he possessed child pornography on his two computers ... Hasselbach also admitted that he chatted online with 14- and 15-year-old boys about their first sexual experiences."
If convicted, Hasselbach faces 10 years in prison.
Hasselbach's attorney, Jeffrey M. Voluck of Fort Lauderdale, said only that Hasselbach intends to fight the charges and is "presumed innocent until proven guilty." He said Hasselbach would have no comment.
Sammarco, who is now 52 and lives in Sapulpa, Okla., said he feels relief that Hasselbach, once a frequent guest at the Sammarco home, "can't hurt anyone" anymore, but also anger he went free for so many years. And church officials, he said, "should have done more than just let him retire."
Hasselbach, who worked at St. Raphael's in East Meadow among other parishes, was relieved of his pastoral duties by the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1994 and given early retirement after Sammarco, then 37, had lodged a complaint with the diocese.
Hasselbach was never prosecuted because the five-year statute of limitations had expired after the alleged abuse in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A pending state child sex abuse victims bill would create a one-year window during which a victim, regardless of when alleged abuse occurred, could file suit. If it is adopted, Sammarco said, he would file a lawsuit against the diocese and Hasselbach "in a heartbeat."
"There's a ton of people they walked over because they could," he said. "It's coming full circle."
The bill may be voted out of committee in the Assembly as early as Tuesday.
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 when the incidents occurred.
Sammarco says the abuse went on from about the age of 12 or 13, to 17.
Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, added that Hasselbach "was permitted to retire in 1994 because of medical issues."
Sammarco said the abuse by Hasselbach left him devastated. He is still trying to piece his life together, although things have improved in recent years. Once a cocaine addict who couldn't hold a job for more than six months, now Sammarco is married (for the second time), and works as an accounts manager for a telephone company. He also preaches to children at a Pentecostal church in Tulsa, about 15 minutes from Sapulpa.
A couple of years before he finally went public with his accusations, Sammarco said, he broke down in tears at his parents' kitchen table as he revealed the horrible secret he'd hidden for so many years.
He had remained silent as a boy because Hasselbach had threatened to "expose" what Sammarco was doing if the boy spoke up, Sammarco said. By age 17, he realized the priest would never tell anyone what was going on, Sammarco said, and he simply started avoiding Hasselbach.
He still did not think of filing a complaint or charges, but came forward in 1993 after he read a Newsday story in which a spokesman for the diocese stated it had never received a complaint of sexual abuse against any of its priests.
He said he just wants to keep healing - though the news of Hasselbach's arrest has stirred fresh memories of his traumatic adolescent years: "You think your past is dead and buried, and then it rears itself up."
WHAT'S IN PROPOSED BILL
A child sex abuse victim's bill stands a renewed chance of passage in Albany. If adopted, here is what the law would do:
It would create a one-year window during which the five-year statute of limitations on filing lawsuits in child sex abuse cases would be dropped. This would allow alleged victims to file lawsuits in the state regardless of when the abuse occurred.
The alleged victims would have to prove their case in a court of law.
The bill would also extend the statute of limitations for future cases from five years to 10 years. It is counted from the alleged victim's 18th birthday, meaning they would have until 28 years of age to file a lawsuit instead of 23.
A competing bill introduced by Assemb. Vito J. Lopez (D-Brooklyn) does not include the one-year open window. It would extend the time an accuser can file suit to seven years after turning 18, that is, 25 years of age.
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