The Chabad rabbi at the center of a scandal surrounding his views on allegations of child sex abuse in Sydney two decades ago has apologized.
Rabbi Baruch Lesches, who now runs the Lubavitch community in Monsey, N.Y., issued a statement Monday saying he “deeply regretted” comments attributed to him in news reports Sunday and stressed he encourages victims of abuse to report it to police.
The apology came a day after Fairfax Media released legal recordings of a phone conversation during which Lesches is heard suggesting boys at Sydney’s Yeshiva Center may have consented to sex abuse.
“I would like to apologize for statements made in a private telephone conversation that caused pain to the greater public,” he said. ”As I clearly told the caller in a subsequent phone conversation, I had no knowledge of the alleged charges claimed to have occurred some 25 years ago and discussed in the news report.”
The Fairfax report claimed Lesches failed to inform police of the allegations when he was head of the rabbinical college in Sydney from the mid-1980s for 20 years. And it quoted Lesches, who was heard saying that reopening such cases would be a “can of worms” that “would not be productive.”
Lesches said in his statement: “I am shocked to hear of these allegations, because I often entrusted my own young children to the care of the alleged perpetrator, without hesitation. I would never have done so had I known of the allegations.”
He said in his community in New York ”there is no reticence to contact the police. We do not hide from or cover up criminal behavior.”
The full statement below from Rabbi Lesches:
I would like to apologize for statements made in a private telephone conversation that caused pain to the greater public. I deeply regret the incident.
I would like to make my position absolutely clear: Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police.
I was saddened to see an edited audio clip released by the Australian media regarding a personal phone conversation I had with an alleged victim of child abuse.
I am troubled by the unprofessional conduct of the reporter who did not call me to verify the facts. Had he called me, I’m sure the information I would have provided would have produced a dramatically different article.
As I clearly told the caller in a subsequent phone conversation: I had no knowledge of the alleged charges claimed to have occurred some twenty-five years ago and discussed in the news report. In the conversation, I was discussing a separate incident where I was under the impression that both alleged parties were similar in age, twenty-one years old, a fact noted by Fairfax at the end of the audio clip. I was never informed of any allegations regarding minors prior to this call.
In retrospect I am shocked to hear of these allegations, because I often entrusted my own young children to the care of the alleged perpetrator, without hesitation. I would never have done so had I known of the allegations.
I reiterate my apology, and am firmly committed to taking every effort to eradicate child abuse in all communities. If the caller had mentioned present abuse, I would have advised him to contact the proper legal authorities.
In my present community, where I am the Rabbi, there is no reticence to contact the police. We do not hide from or cover up criminal behavior. In our schools this is a known fact, and one of the reasons we, may G-d protect us, have to date not been afflicted with the evil disease of child sexual abuse.
Baruch Dov Lesches - June 23rd, 2013