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confessions

Catholic priest reveals he was a KKK member during college

After watching the events in Charlottesville unfold, a Catholic priest in Virginia came forward with some personal information he had kept under wraps for years: In the 1970s, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and served jail time for burning crosses.

Fr. William Aitcheson, 62, was a University of Maryland student at the time, he wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald on Monday, and an "impressionable young man." In March 1977, The Washington Post reported that Aitcheson was a leader of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to several cross burnings in Prince George's County and charges that he threatened to kill Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow.

After serving nine months in jail, Aitcheson left for Rome, where he attended seminary. Since being ordained, he has worked in several parishes around the country, and it is unclear how many knew of his involvement in the KKK. He has been in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington for more than 24 years, the diocese tells the Post, and has spent the last four years as a parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City. The diocese said it "learned of his past as well as his sincere conversion of heart," and has never heard any accusations of racism against Aitcheson from parishioners. Aitcheson wrote that he is stepping down temporarily from his position at St. Leo the Great, and said the "irony" that he "left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy."