A Roman Catholic priest from the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia has admitted that he used to burn crosses as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a life he left behind 40 years ago. After his confession, he is stepping away from public service and begging for forgiveness for his past sins.
"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," Fr. William Aitcheson wrote in The Arlington Catholic Herald on Monday.
"As a young adult I was Catholic, but in no way practicing my faith. The irony that I left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy," he added.
Aitcheson said that 40 years have passed since he left the KKK.
"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 said.
The priest explained he is making the statement now following the Charlottesville violence earlier this month, where white nationalist groups clashed with leftist antifa protesters.
The violence left one person dead and spurred widespread controversy over racial tensions in America, with both the Catholic Church and many Protestant pastors condemning anyone who would use Christianity to justify racism.
In his article, Aitcheson wrote that he believes God forgave him for his past, but that does not mean he can forget what he once was a part of.
"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," he wrote.
"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."
In a direct message to any white supremacists reading his words, he added: "You will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside."
A Diocesan note at the end of the article stated that Aitcheson has decided to step away from public ministry "for the well being of the Church and parish community."
Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge of the diocese issued the following statement in response to Aitcheson's editorial:
"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 noted that there "have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time" at the diocese.