In an op-ed written in a local Catholic newspaper to announce he was stepping down, a Virginia priest admitted to being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s before joining the clergy. In the op-ed, Father William Aitcheson writes that he doesn’t recognize the person he used to be.
“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 wrote.
“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. Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others.”
The Washington Post reported on Aitcheson’s KKK activities in 1977 when the then-23 year old was charged with multiple counts of cross burning in Maryland. Police searched his home at the time and found bomb-making materials:
Aitcheson pleaded guilty to several cross burnings, including one in the front yard of an African American family in the College Park Woods neighborhood and others at B’nai B’rith Hillel at the University of Maryland and the Beth Torah Congregation in Hyattsville. He was convicted and sentenced to 90 days, and ordered to pay a judgment of about $20,000.
Aitcheson also once threatened Coretta King, Martin Luther King Jr’s widow, in a letter warning her to not visit the University of Maryland where Aitcheson was studying at the time.
Aitcheson was ordained in 1988 and served at parishes in Nevada, Virginia, and Maryland. At the end of his op-ed, a note was appended to say that Aitcheson had voluntarily asked to step down from the ministry, and that move was approved.
Catholic Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said that the revelation was “sad and deeply troubling” but that there had never been any accusations of racism made against Aitcheson.