A Roman Catholic priest in Virginia is temporarily stepping down after opening up about his Ku Klux Klan past. Father William Aitcheson apologized for his past (and previously disclosed) actions as an "exalted cyclops" of a Maryland KKK chapter, and said the Charlottesville terror attack inspired him to pen his widely shared editorial, as reported by the Washington Post Tuesday.
In the editorial, published Monday by the Arlington Catholic Herald, Aitcheson condemned his actions as an "impressionable young man."
"It’s public information, but it rarely comes up," he said. "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."
Aitcheson—23 years old at the time—was charged in 1977 for multiple cross burnings in Prince George's County, Maryland. He was hit with additional counts related to bomb threats and the manufacturing of pipe bombs: a '70s-era search of Aitcheson's residence resulted in the discovery of "bomb parts" and related items. In the editorial, Aitcheson said he had "no excuse" for his past actions, and asked for forgiveness. "To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry," he said.
Aitcheson added that the Charlottesville violence, which prompted his piece and decision to temporarily step down from the ministry, is an embarrassment to the nation.
Earlier this month, James Alex Fields Jr. was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer. He has since been hit with five additional felony charges. According to police, Heyer was killed when Fields rammed his car into a crowd of protesters at the Unite the Right rally that sent Charlottesville into a tailspin. Fields was described by his former high school history teacher as someone who "loved Hitler."
A note from the diocese, included in Aitcheson's editorial, confirmed that Aitcheson "voluntarily asked to temporarily step away" from public ministry. The request has been approved.