SYDNEY (JTA) — 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, the head of the Sydney Yeshiva Center for 20 years starting in the mid-1980s, issued a statement Monday saying he “deeply regretted” comments attributed to him in news reports the previous day and stressed that he encourages victims of abuse to report them to police.
The apology came a day after Fairfax Media released legal recordings of a phone conversation during which Lesches, who now runs the Lubavitch community in Monsey, N.Y., is heard suggesting boys at the Sydney 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 Sydney center. It also 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.”