Mary Kekatos, Daily Mail, August 22, 2017
A Virginia Catholic priest has stepped down after admitting that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan more than 40 years before joining the church.
In an editorial published in the Arlington Catholic Herald on Monday, Father William Aitcheson wrote that images from the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on August 12 ‘brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget’.
The head of St Leo the Great Church in Fairfax said he was sharing his story so he could show that transformation was possible.
‘My actions were despicable,’ the 62-year-old 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.’
In 1977, Aitcheson, then a 23-year-old University of Maryland student and a klan leader, was charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and other counts, including making bomb threats and manufacturing pipe bombs.
Officers who searched his home in the 1970s found nine pounds of black powder, weapons and bomb parts in Aitcheson’s bedroom and basement.
A Washington Post story at the time reported that the Robert E Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was planning to bomb the homes of blacks and the offices of the NAACP in Prince George’s.
The lodge also allegedly planned to recruit people to blow up communications facilities and a generating plant at Fort George G Meade.
‘While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me,’ Aitcheson wrote in his editorial.
‘The irony that I left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.’
The Diocese of Arlington released a statement on Monday stating that no accusations of racism or bigotry against Aitcheson have been brought during his 24 years of service in the diocese.
‘While Father 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 Michael Burbidge of Arlington.
A note at the bottom of Aitcheson’s editorial stated he voluntarily asked to take a leave of absence from public ministry ‘for the well-being of the Church and parish community’ – and the request was approved.
Virginia has been dealing with the aftermath of a white supremacist rally, which included neo-Nazis, KKK members, and members of the alt-right movement, in Charlottesville on August 12 protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee from a downtown park.
One person was killed when white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr drove his car into a group of counter-demonstrators.