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Priest Klan
In this photo provided by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., Father William Aitcheson, a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Aitcheson is taking a leave of absence after disclosing he once was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Aitcheson wrote about his past Klan affiliation Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, in The Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese’s newspaper. (Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va. via AP

A Virginia priest is taking leave after disclosing his past in the Ku Klux Klan


A Roman Catholic priest in Virginia has taken a leave of absence after disclosing he was previously a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

In a column published Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald, Father William Aitcheson revealed that as a young man he burned crosses as a member of the KKK.

"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."

The 62-year-old priest said 40 years had passed since he was a member of the Klan, but the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville reminded him of that time in his life.

"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," Aitcheson wrote.

The diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said Aitcheson "voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry."

Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge said while Aitcheson's past is troubling, he hopes his story will change the hearts and minds of others.

Aitcheson was sentenced to 90 days in jail in 1977 after the cross-burnings. One College Park, Maryland, cross burning he participated in drew a response from President Ronald Reagan years later. In that case, a judge ordered him to pay a couple $23,000 in damages.

Aitcheson explained in the article that his Klan membership is public information, but rarely comes up.

Diocese spokesman Billy Atwell said that although the diocese knew about Aitcheson's past, the civil suit against him was news to them as well. Atwell said the diocese "will be working with Fr. Aitcheson to ensure he meets all of his legal and moral obligations to make restitution."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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