McLEAN, Va. — A local Catholic priest will voluntarily "step away from public ministry" after acknowledging that he was a member of the KKK 40 years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said Tuesday.
"When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter, and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else," Father William Aitcheson wrote in a story for the The Arlington Catholic Herald published Monday. "It's hard to believe that was me."
Aitcheson said he was an "impressionable young man," at the time, adding that his actions were "despicable." He said the images of violence in Charlottesville last week, when a white nationalist rally exploded in violence and the death of a counterprotester, brought back memories from a bleak period in his life.
"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," Aitcheson wrote. "I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me."
Aitcheson wrote that the events in Charlottesville embarrassed the nation.
"Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others," he wrote. But he said Christ teaches that all people are "wonderfully made," regardless of skin color or ethnicity
Aitcheson encouraged white supremacists to abandon their ideology, saying it would provide no fulfillment.
"We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations," he wrote. "What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear."
Aitcheson was a 23-year-old University of Maryland student and an "exalted cyclops" when he was charged in 1977 with with six cross-burnings in Prince George's County, Md., one count of making bomb threats and two of manufacturing pipe bombs, according to an article from The Washington Post dated March 3 of that year.
Maryland State police said the lodge was planning to bomb homes of blacks and the offices of the local NAACP, the Post reported then.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said he had approved Aitcheson's request to temporarily step away from public ministry for the well-being of the Church and parish community. Burbidge called Aitcheson's KKK past "deeply troubling."
Aitcheson was ordained a priest in Nevada in 1988. Burbidge said Aitcheson has faced no accusations of racism or bigotry at least since he began working in the Arlington diocese in 1993.
"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," Burbidge said in a statement. "Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God.”