A Catholic priest said he is taking a leave of absence after revealing that he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, about 40 years ago.
Father William Aitcheson, of the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington, Virginia, penned an editorial in the Arlington Catholic Herald revealing his past.
“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 said, Fox5DC reported.
“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,” he said.
He then encouraged white supremacists to abandon the ideology and “find peace and mercy.”
“While Father 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,” read a statement from Bishop Burbidge of the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington.
According to NBC, Aitcheson said that his KKK membership is public record, saying he was sentenced to 90 days in jail in 1977 on a series of criminal charges including cross burning.
He also threatened to kill Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.
Aitcheson was ordained in 1984 in Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nevada.
“At the time he began ministry here in 1993, the diocese learned of his past as well as his sincere conversion of heart,” a spokesman for the diocese told NBC. “His conversion is evidenced, in part, by the fact that we have had no accusation of racism while ministering in the Diocese of Arlington.”