A 62-year-old Catholic priest in Virginia decided to step away from his duties at the Church after revealing he was a Ku Klux Klan member forty years ago.

Father William Aitcheson wrote an editorial on Monday for The Arlington Catholic Herald in which he described his dark past with the KKK four decades ago when he burned crosses and terrorized African American families in his community. Aitcheson said that seeing what happened in Charlottesville stirred memories from a “bleak period” in his life – and he decided to share his experience.

Former KKK member Father William Aitcheson. Image Credit: Arlington Catholic Herald
Former KKK member Father William Aitcheson. Image Credit: Arlington Catholic Herald

The Washington Post reports that when Aitcheson was part of the KKK, he was sentenced to jail for burning crosses in the front lawn of a newlywed black couple in Prince George County, Maryland.

Virginia priest says Charlottesville images brought back memories of his dark past

Aitcheson begins his editorial with a shocking confession – saying that he was once part of the racist group Ku Klux Klan.

“What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” he wrote in The Arlington Catholic Herald. “It’s public information but it rarely comes up. My actions were despicable. 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.”

The priest says he was raised Catholic, but he didn’t practice his faith. For him, the fact that he left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church it’s a reminder of the “radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”

It’s been 40 years since he left the hate group, but he says he’s sorry and asks forgiveness to those who’ve been subjected to racism or bigotry. Aitcheson says the images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a period of his life that he’d preferred to forget. However, he stresses that while we should forgive, we should not forget those despicable actions spurred by hate and bigotry.

“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,” he wrote. “Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others.”

Aitcheson’s counts included a death threat to Martin Luther King’s widow

The Washington Post reported in March 1977 that Aitcheson, then a 23-year-old student at the University of Maryland, was an “exalted cyclops” of a KKK group. He was charged at the time in several cross-burnings in Prince George County, one count of making bomb threats and two counts of making pipe bombs.

Aitcheson was a leader of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which planned to recruit people to blow up facilities in Fort Meade. Police searched his house in the 1970s and found nine pounds of black powder, weapons, and bomb parts.

He pleaded guilty to several cross burnings, including one in the front yard of a newlywed African American family and others at B’nai B’rith Hillel at the University of Maryland and the Beth Torah Congregation. Aitcheson was sentenced to 90 days in prison and ordered to pay $20,000 to the affected family.

Aitcheson also pleaded guilty to charges that he threatened to murder Coretta King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. He admitted writing a letter to King in February 1976, telling her to stay away from the University of Maryland campus or she would die. Investigators said he wrote, “Africa or death by lynching, take your pick, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Coretta Scott King, who received threats from Father Aitcheson, next to her husband Dr. Martin Luther King. Image Credit: Heavy.com
Coretta Scott King, who received threats from Father Aitcheson, next to her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King. Image Credit: Heavy.com

After serving his time in prison, Aitcheson attended a seminary in Rome, became a reverend and was ordained as a Catholic priest. He served in several Virginia churches, including his post at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City for four years.

Aitcheson decided to step away from his duties at the Church temporarily

Bishop Michael Burbridge said in a statement Tuesday that no accusations of bigotry or racism have been issued against Aitcheson since he joined the Diocese of Arlington in 1993.

“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,” said Bishop Burbridge.

Aitcheson finished his editorial sending a message to any white supremacists reading his remarks: “you will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside.”

The Diocese announced Aitcheson voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the “well being of the Church and parish community.”

Source: The Washington Post