A senior Chabad rabbi in America has publicly apologised after Australian media published recordings of him suggesting child sex abuse victims may have consented to molestation.
Rabbi Baruch Lesches, a former head of the rabbinical college at Chabad’s headquarters in Sydney from the mid-1980s, said on Monday he had deep “regret” about the incident.
“I would like to apologise for statements made in a private telephone conversation that caused pain to the greater public,” said Rabbi Lesches, who now runs the Chabad community in Monsey, New York.
“Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police.”
The explosive report in Fairfax Media on Sunday quoted Rabbi Lesches as saying during the taped phone conversation: “We are speaking about very young boys … everybody says about the other one that he agreed to this.”
When queried about young boys consenting, he said: “You would be surprised.” The taped conversation, handed over to Australian investigators, also quoted Rabbi Lesches threatening to banish both the perpetrator and the victim unless the perpetrator could refrain from molestation.
But in his apology he said he thought the victim and perpetrator were 21.
“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.
“In the conversation, I was discussing a separate incident where I was under the impression that both alleged parties were similar in age, 21 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.” Rabbi Lesches said he was “shocked” to hear of the allegations against minors.
Before his apology, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria said it was “appalled” by the comments.
Three child sex abuse cases involving Jews are scheduled to go before the Australian courts next month.