A Virginia priest is taking a leave of absence after disclosing he once was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Father William Aitcheson, a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, wrote about his past Klan affiliation Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese's newspaper.

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"As a catholic priest, you have to be open to your parishioners," Carlos Santiago, a parishioner, said.

The 62-year-old Aitcheson said that 40 years have passed since he was in the Klan.

He apologized for his participation and said the images from this month's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville reminded him of a period in his life he'd prefer to forget.

"What people did in the past doesn't necessarily count for what they do now," Tom Hardy, who lives nearby, said. "What they do now makes more difference."

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In a statement, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge called Aitcheson's past with the Klan troubling, but said he hopes his story will help others turn away from hate.

Bishop Burbige's full statement: “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. 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.”

Aitcheson had been serving at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax.

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