A Catholic priest who was in the Ku Klux Klan before becoming a faith leader three decades ago has attempted to make amends with a black couple he targeted in a cross burning, offering an apology and paying out tens of thousands of dollars to his victims.
The priest, William M. Aitcheson, 62, said in a note to Phillip and Barbara Butler that he is now ashamed of the way he behaved during his younger years and that he abandoned those hateful ideals upon entering the priesthood.
He also lamented his use of a cross in perpetuating his antics, saying that he was “blinded by hate and ignorance.” Aitcheson also apologized for taking 40 years to make an apology, but said that he was plagued by shame, according to The Washington Post.
“I believe now that all people can live together in peace regardless of race,” Aitcheson wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to the couple. “I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has even known must never be used as a weapon of terror. Its use against you was a despicable act. I seriously regret the suffering it caused you.”
The priest’s decision to apologize is particularly notable, as it also included $23,000 in an overdue civil suit judgement and an additional $9,600 in legal fees, the Post reported.
— Michael Quander WUSA (@MikeQReports) August 22, 2017
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington released a statement explaining that the Catholic Church didn’t know about the civil judgement until this year and that the Butlers had declined a meeting with Aitcheson, which is what sparked his letter to the couple.
“Fr. Aitcheson had no legal obligation to make restitution, and it should be clarified that he had no obligation under Church law either,” the statement said. “Fr. Aitcheson felt a moral obligation to pay as much as he could. The Diocese supported this decision. The restitution and attorney’s fees have been paid by Fr. Aitcheson from his private funds and a personal loan.”
Aircheson took a leave of absence back in August and, at the time, wrote an article for the Arlington Catholic Herald, detailing his past sins and expressing his remorse. He also said that the racial division in Charlottesville forced him to recall 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,” he wrote. “It’s hard to believe that was me.”
As for the Butlers, they remain skeptical of Aitcheson’s apology, with Phillip Butler saying at a Friday press conference that he can’t yet forgive the priest. The couple also doubts Aitcheson’s confession, as a reporter had allegedly been looking into his past before the priest decided to pen his letter.
“For you to say that you’re sorry? No, you’re not sorry. You’re sorry that you got caught,” Barbara Butler said. “This is going to take time. For you to come into my life, 40 years, and say I’m sorry. I will pray on it. That’s the only thing I can do.”
The diocese is still weighing Aitcheson’s future priestly duties.