A Catholic priest has taken a leave of absence after revealing his past in the Ku Klux Klan.
"My actions were despicable," wrote Father William Aitcheson of Arlington, Virginia, in an op-ed for the Arlington Catholic Herald, Raw Story reports. Aitcheson said that the deadly, racially charged violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12 brought him back to the dark period in his life when he was involved with the KKK.
"What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan," wrote Aitcheson in the Catholic Herald. "It's public information but it rarely comes up."
"When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter, and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else," Aitcheson's piece continued. "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," he added. "What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear."
He went on to apologize for his actions:
While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I'm sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.
The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget. The reality is, we cannot forget, we should not forget. Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me - as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness - forgetting what I did would be a mistake. Those mistakes have emboldened me in my journey to follow the God who yearns to give us his grace and redemption.
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.
Aitcheson, 62, was reportedly a former leader of a KKK group that had been involved with cross burnings and had allegedly considered bombing NAACP offices.
The Catholic Dioceses of Arlington's Bishop Burbridge said that Aitcheson's story 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," said Burbridge. "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."
A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Billy Attwell, said that the priest's "story of repentance is authentic," and added that since the mid-2000s, "all staff and clergy have had in-depth background checks," Washington Post reports.