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Virginia priest takes leave of absence after penning editorial on Klan past

ARLINGTON, Va. – After the events in Charlottesville, a Virginia priest wrote an editorial Monday on how he turned to a life of faith after leaving the Ku Klux Klan. Then he decided to step down from his position in the church.

“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” wrote Father William Aitcheson, 62, of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington in a post for The Arlington Catholic Herald titled “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace.”

According to The Washington Post, Aitcheson, then a 23-year-old student at the University of Maryland, was charged in several cross burnings in Prince George’s County in 1977.

The 1977 story reported that Maryland State Police said Aitcheson was a leader – who was referred to as an “exalted cyclops” – of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK. When officers searched his home, they found nine pounds of black powder, weapons and bomb components in his bedroom and the basement. Police said the lodge planned to bomb the homes of African Americans, NAACP offices and Fort Meade.

Father William Aitcheson

The Post also reported that Aitcheson pleaded guilty to charges of threatening to kill Coretta Scott King after writing her a letter in February 1976 warning her to “stay off the University of Maryland campus or you will die.” He was sentenced to 60 days in prison and four years of probation.

In the editorial, Aitcheson apologized for his actions in the past and called what happened in Charlottesville “embarrassing.” He also said that white supremacist ideologies must be condemned “at every opportunity” and asked for prayers for both the victims and the perpetrators of racism.

“If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: you will find no fulfillment in this ideology,” he wrote. “Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside.”

A diocesan note at the end of the editorial mentioned Aitcheson’s voluntary decision to step away from his church duties.

After the editorial was published, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington issued a statement on Aitcheson’s revelations:

While Fr. Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and 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. 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.

The diocese’s chief communications officer said “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

Click here to read the full editorial.