A Catholic priest in Arlington, Va., is temporarily stepping down from public ministry after revealing Monday he is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who burned crosses before joining the church.
In an editorial for the Arlington Catholic Herald, the Rev. William Aitcheson spoke about his history with the group and said the events in Charlottesville, Va., brought back "memories of a bleak period in my life I would have preferred to forget."
"What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan," Aitcheson wrote in the editorial, published Monday. "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."
Aitcheson, 62, volunteered to temporarily leave the public ministry, and his request was accepted.
When Aitcheson was a 23-year-old student at the University of Maryland, the Washington Post identified him in a March 1977 article as an "exalted cyclops" of a KKK lodge. He was charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George's County, Md., one count of making bomb threats and two counts of manufacturing pipe bombs.
Maryland State Police said Aitcheson was a leader of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK, according to the Post story, which planned to bomb black-owned homes, as well as NAACP offices in Prince George's County. The lodge was also planning to recruit people to bomb communications facilities at Fort Meade.
Law enforcement searched the Aitcheson family home in the 1970s and found nine pounds of black power, weapons, and bomb parts in his bedroom and basement.
In his editorial for the Arlington Catholic Herald, Aitcheson called the scenes from Charlottesville "embarrassing" and encouraged white supremacists reading his editorial to "find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ."
"The images from Charlottesville are embarrassing," Aitcheson wrote. "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 ordained for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas before transferred to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Most recently, the 62-year-old served as a parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City, Va.