A Catholic priest in Arlington, Va., is taking a temporary leave of absence after revealing he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan and participated in cross burnings before becoming a man of the cloth.
In an editorial published in the Arlington Catholic Herald on Monday, Aug. 21, Rev. William Aitcheson described himself as an “impressionable young man” when he chose to join the hate group over 40 years ago. Aitcheson wrote that images from the unrest Charlottesville brought back memories of a “bleak period in my life” that he would’ve preferred to forget.
“My actions were despicable, the clergyman 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.”
“While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry,” the 62-year-old added. “To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I’m sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.”
Catholic Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has since responded to Aitcheson’s shocking revelation, calling his past dealings with the Klan “sad and deeply troubling.”
In a statement, church officials said the priest served with the Catholic church in Nevada before being transferred to his hometown of Arlington. Aitcheson was ordained in 1988, serving in a number of capacities at local churches over the years. His most recent position was as an assistant to the pastor at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City, The Washington Post reported.
A March 1977 article in the newspaper identified Aitcheson as an “exalted cyclops” of a KKK lodge. The then-23-year-old University of Maryland student was charged with six cross burnings and a host of other counts, including making bomb threats and building pipe bombs. Authorities at the time said the lodge was planning to recruit people to blow up facilities at Fort Meade.
When police searched Aitcheson’s home, they discovered nine pounds of black powder, weapons and bomb parts in his bedroom and basement, The Washington Post article stated.
In his editorial, the clergyman apologized for his past actions and described the images from Charlotteville as “embarassing.” He added that for people like himself who have turned from a “damaging and destructive past, the images should bring us to our knees in prayer.”
“We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations,” Aitcheson wrote. “What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear.”