FAIRFAX, VA -- The victims of a former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member, now Catholic priest, spoke out Wednesday about the cross burning he committed outside their College Park, Md. home 40 years ago.
"The Butler family was shocked that they were having to revisit what had been a nightmare for them, some 40 years ago," said Ted Williams, the lawyer for Phillip and Candace Butler.
Williams said Father William Aitcheson burned a cross on the Butlers' front yard back in 1977 when Aitcheson was a member of the KKK.
Aitcheson wrote an editorial about his past life earlier this week.
Williams said the family did not know Aitcheson had become a priest until the editorial was published.
"They were in utter shock," added Williams. He said the family is questioning the priest's motive for publishing the editorial.
Aitcheson, currently a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, wrote that we was motivated by the events in Charlottesville. Williams said the family thinks he was trying get in front of a story being published about him in the media and added there have been plenty of other civil rights catastrophes before Charlottesville that Aitcheson could have spoken out about.
"You would have thought that at any one of these catastrophic incidents, Father Aitcheson could have come forward," added Williams.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Diocese said Aitcheson had been approached by a reporter:
"A freelancer reporter, who introduced herself as a parishioner, contacted the Diocese and stated that she learned that Fr. Aitcheson’s legal name matched that of a man arrested in the 1970s. Fr. Aitcheson was approached about this, he acknowledged his past and saw the opportunity to tell his story in the hopes that others would see the possibility of conversion and repentance, especially given the context of what occurred in Charlottesville. The Diocese agreed to publish his account."
Williams added that the Butlers have never received an apology from Aitcheson for what he did.
The Diocese said that Aitcheson acknowledges that the family deserves one and that he "is open to meeting with the Butlers privately, to address some of their rightly-held concerns and questions. Bishop Burbidge has offered to be present for that meeting. In the press conference, Mr. Butler said that he and his wife want closure. Our hope is that we can assist them in finding that closure."
Williams said the family is open to that meeting if Aitcheson is willing to give the names of the other individuals who took part in the cross burning.
"They know that someone other than Father Aitcheson burned that cross on their lawn. And they believe that if Father Aitcheson is sincere in his repentance that he would be willing to give up the names of other individuals who were out there with him," said Williams.
The Diocese said Aitcheson agreed "to fully cooperate with law enforcement addressing details of this case that were not gathered previously."
Williams added the Butlers were also award $23,000 in a civil suit related to the case, but have never received the money.
The diocese did not mention the money in its statement but did add it is "encouraging Fr. Aitcheson to fulfill his legal and moral obligations to the Butler family."