A Catholic priest working in Virginia has announced he would temporarily step down after revealing he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Rev. William Aitcheson admitted to burning crosses and participating in other acts during his time as a member of the hate group more than 40 years ago in an editorial published in the Arlington Catholic Herald.
“In the course of one’s life, there are seminal moments that humble us and, in some cases, even bring shame,” Aitcheson, 62, wrote Monday. “What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
“My actions were despicable," he wrote. "When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter, and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else. It’s hard to believe that was me,” he continued.
Though “public information,” Aitcheson said he felt it necessary to bring attention to his past in light of the deadly white supremacist and white nationalist rally recently held in Charlottesville.
“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget," he wrote. "The reality is, we cannot forget, we should not forget. The images from Charlottesville are embarrassing. They embarrass us as a country, but for those who have repented from a damaging and destructive past, the images should bring us to our knees in prayer.
“Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others.”
Aitcheson was 23 years old and attending the University of Maryland when he was identified as an “exalted cyclops,” or leader, of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK in a report in The Washington Post.
He was charged with six cross burnings in Maryland, and was accused of making bomb threats and manufacturing pipe bombs, the paper reported.
“My son, along with others, are just caught up in it... I don’t know what their thoughts are,” Aitcheson’s father said at the time.
Aitcheson noted in his editorial this week that he left the anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church (“the irony … is not lost on me,” he wrote) and in 1988, he was ordained as a priest.
He served with the Catholic Church in Nevada before being transferred to Arlington, church officials said.
“While 40 years had passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry,” Aitcheson wrote. “I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.
“We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations. What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear,” he continued. “If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: You will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside.”
In a statement, Catholic Diocese of Arlington said Aitcheson “voluntarily asked to step away from public ministry, for the well-being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved. He will not be available for interviews.”
“While Fr. Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart,” Bishop Michael Burbidge said in a statement.
There have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington, the church said.