Father William Aitcheson has taken a leave of absence after revealing that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
As a member of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, he wrote an op-ed in the Arlington Catholic Herald, admitting to his past involvement in the Klan, Fox5 reported. He said that what happened in Charlottesville last week "brought back memories of a bleak period" that prompted him to be honest about his past. He said that he left the group 40 years ago, but clearly his link still sits with him.
"My actions were despicable," he 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. We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations. What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear.”
He went on to apologize "to anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me."
He then begged white supremacists to leave their hate and bigotry behind and do as he has; "find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Burbidge of the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington responded to the story by saying that it was "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,” he 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.”
FOX5 confirmed that Aitcheson wasn't just a member but a former leader of a KKK group. He participated in cross burnings in College Park, Maryland in 1977 and considered bombing Fort Meade and Price George's County NAACP offices. Aitcheson was also convicted on a criminal misdemeanor and received 90 days in jail.
According to the Dioceses, there haven't been any accusations of racism or bigotry against Aitcheson in the past and his op-ed was completely voluntary.
"I ask that you pray for the victims of racism and bigotry. Pray that they would never feel like anything less than children of God, bestowed with dignity and love," Aitcheson wrote in his closing. "Pray also for those who perpetuate racist beliefs and wrongly believe they are superior to others. God forgives everyone who truly repents. Nobody is outside of his loving grasp. With conversion in Christ, they can find new life in the truth."