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ARLINGTON, Va. - A Catholic priest is temporarily stepping away from his public duties after writing in an op-ed about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan four decades ago.
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said Rev. William Aitcheson penned the article to show the transformation possible in life. Aitcheson volunteered to take a leave on the day the article was published, officials said. It was not immediately clear how long he would be on leave.
“My actions were despicable,” Aitcheson wrote in the article, published Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald. “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 article was written in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester demonstrating against a rally organized by white supremacists was killed by a known Nazi sympathizer.
“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” Aitcheson wrote. “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.”
Aitcheson, 62, was ordained in Nevada after attending seminary at the North American College in Rome. He spent some years with the Diocese of Reno before becoming a permanent priest in 1998 with the Diocese of Arlington.
He currently serves as the parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City.
He wrote in his opinion piece that his own transformation, from white supremacist to priest, “is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”
“Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others,” Aitcheson 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.”
Officials with the Diocese of Arlington said that they have not gotten any complaints of Aitcheson being racist or bigoted in his time with the diocese.
In a statement, Arlington Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge called Aitcheson’s history with the KKK “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,” Burbidge said.