FAIRFAX, Va. - FBI documents uncovered by FOX 5 show that a Catholic priest, who recently disclosed he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was convicted over 40 years ago of mailing a letter threatening to kill the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. if she spoke at an event at a Maryland university.
Fr. William Aitcheson, who has taken a leave of absence from the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington, authored an editorial in the Arlington Catholic Herald earlier this week in which he exposed his past life as a member of the hate group.
In the article, Aitcheson admitted to participating in cross burnings with the group and said that he had written a threatening letter – but did not say who the recipient of the letter was.
"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 wrote.
In declassified FBI documents that reference a 1977 Baltimore Sun article, FOX 5 found that the letter mentioned by Aitcheson, then a 22-year-old former University of Maryland student, had been mailed to Coretta Scott King threatening to kill her if she spoke at the university campus.
The article said that Aitcheson received a federal sentence of 90 days and four years of probation. An additional 30 days was to be served concurrently on state firearm charges in Howard County and a cross burning charge in Prince George's County.
Court documents say that Aitcheson's time was to be served at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri and that he was to undergo psychiatric treatment while there.
FOX 5's Melanie Alnwick reported that Aitcheson's KKK group considered bombing local Maryland facilities, including Fort Meade and the Prince George's County NAACP offices.
Arthur Jackson recalled being evacuated from the Prince George's County NAACP offices when the bomb threats were made when he spoke to FOX 5's Kristyn Leon in an exclusive interview.
"During the meeting, we got a call from the FBI that we had to evacuate the building because there was going to be an attempt to fire bomb the building we were in," Jackson described.
But despite all of the hateful actions Aitcheson took against the African-American community, Jackson said he can only forgive him.
"Something touched him, touched his heart and made him come forward," Jackson said. "Those who were Klansman, who were skinheads, who came out of the lifestyle, came forward and tried to start a new life, I think we should reach out and forgive them."
"While Fr. Aitcheson's past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart,” a statement from Bishop Burbidge of the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington read. "Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God.”
The Dioceses says there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington. Aitcheson had been serving at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax. The Dioceses says he voluntarily asked to step away from public ministry for the well-being of the Church and parish community.
FOX 5 attempted to reach Aitcheson for comment but he has not responded to our requests.