Catholic priest tells black family he was 'blinded by hate,' apologizes for burning cross 40 years ago on their lawn

A Catholic priest who was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan apologized in writing to a black couple for burning a cross on their lawn 40 years ago.

The Rev. William Aitcheson told Philip and Barbara Butler he was "blinded by hate and ignorance" when he targeted them in 1977 at their home in College Park, Md.

The Washington Post reports that in a letter dated Sept. 8, Aitcheson said he rejected those beliefs before he joined the priesthood, but was too ashamed to face the Butlers.

"I believe now that all people can live together in peace regardless of race," he wrote in the letter. "I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever 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."

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priest kkk cross

Rev. William Aitcheson  (Arlington Diocese )

The Butlers said they are not sure what Aitcheson, who was sentenced to 90 days in jail in 1977, could do to earn their forgiveness.

"This is going to take some time," Barbara Butler said after a news conference Friday, reports the Associated Press. 

"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 Butlers and their attorney also spoke about the recent payment to the Butlers of $23,000 from an overdue judgment in a lawsuit, along with $9,600 in attorney fees.

In a statement, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said Aitcheson used his private funds and a personal loan to make the payment.

Aitcheson wrote in a recent essay that the violence at the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August made him think about his actions with the KKK.

"As this matter involving the Butler family and Fr. Aitcheson has only been resolved recently, plans for his future priestly ministry are still being discerned," the diocese said in a statement Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.