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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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Conversion is possible for everyone, even members of the Ku Klux Klan

Conversion is possible for everyone, even members of the Ku Klux Klan

Shortly after the Charlottesville happenings, a news report came out linking a Catholic priest to the Ku Klux Klan.

A friend of mine heard the TV news report that a Catholic priest was a member of the KKK. She only heard part of the news so she asked me if I knew anything about the priest. I didn’t know anything but I was willing to do some research.

Overall, I believe the media does not try to invent fake news. I think most journalists are sincere but sometimes they don’t check out the whole story. I also believe that journalists tend to be sensationalist. They want you to read their whole article so they put the most shocking elements first.

So when we hear that “a Catholic priest was a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” we tend to say, “Wow, what’s that all about?” and want to read or hear the whole story.

That statement could have two meanings: a Catholic priest was a present member of the KKK; or the priest was formally a member of the KKK. After researching the situation, the second option is what happened.

Fr. William Aitcheson wrote an article in his diocesan newspaper, the Arlington Catholic Herald, where he told his story of transformation. He says, “What most people do not know about me is that as an impressionable young man, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s public information but it rarely comes up. 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.”

He says as a young adult he was a Catholic, but did not practice his faith. Then he goes on to say, “The irony that I 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.”

The images from Charlottesville brought back memories from his former life. Although many years have passed since he left the Klan, he apologized publically for any hurt or harm he might have caused. He said, “I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry. I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.”

Fr. Aitcheson went on to say he would rather forget this part of his life. He said, “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. Those mistakes have emboldened me in my journey to follow the God who yearns to give us his grace and redemption.”

Racism pollutes our minds to believe that some of us are superior to others. Christ teaches something different. He teaches us that we are all his creations and wonderfully made – no matter our skin color or ethnicity.

Fr. Aitcheson says, “Realizing this truth is incredibly liberating. When I left my former life, I did much soul-searching. God humbled me, because I needed to be humbled. Abandoning thoughts of racism and superiority gave me the liberation I needed.”

He concludes, “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.”

Fr. Aitcheson voluntarily asked to step temporarily away from his public ministry, for the well-being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved.

A reader wrote in and said, “A priest who can share the story of his youthful moral errors, in the hope that it might serve as an example of what not to do is a role model for others. We need his good example.”