Catholic priest cops to being former KKK member, takes leave from church

William Aitcheson, a 62-year-old priest serving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, disclosed his past as a cross-burning member of the Ku Klux Klan before becoming a man of the cloth.

“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 an editorial for The Arlington Catholic Herald. “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 had successfully repressed the time he spent in the KKK during the ’70s, but recent events in Charlottesville made it too difficult to ignore his past life.

From The Arlington Catholic Herald:

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.

According a 1977 Washington Post story, the then-23-year-old University of Maryland student who attained the rank of “exalted cyclops” in the Klan was charged with burning six crosses, manufacturing pipe bombs, and threatening to bomb the homes of black people, an NAACP office, and an army base. Several of the cross-burnings occurred at synagogues and schools.

Forty years later, Aitcheson disavows the KKK. “We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations,” Aitchison wrote. “What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear.”

He has since taken a leave from the church. His editorial was amended with the following editorial note:

Father William Aitcheson’s article was written with the intention of telling his story of transformation. He voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the well being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved.

Catholic Diocese of Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge told Washington Post that Aitcheson’s past was “sad and deeply troubling.”

[Photo: Diocese of Arlington]