Priest who penned apology for KKK past never paid court-ordered damages

Priest apologizes for KKK past

Last Updated Aug 24, 2017 1:40 PM EDT

A Catholic priest and former Klansman who penned an apology essay never paid court-ordered damages for his racist crimes in the 1970s. Barbara and Phillip Butler say 62-year-old William Aitcheson also never apologized for placing a massive burning cross outside their Maryland home in 1977.

In an essay published Monday, Aitcheson confessed to being a leader of the KKK in his early 20s.

"My actions were despicable," he wrote. "While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I'm sorry."

He said he was encouraged to apologize by the violence in Charlottesville. But the Diocese of Arlington later said an inquiry by a freelance journalist is what prompted the revelation, reports CBS News' Errol Barnett.

"For him to say that he was a priest, I don't -- I didn't know what to say," Butler said.

The Butlers are reliving that moment 40 years ago when they discovered a seven-foot cross burning on their front lawn.

"I went to the door. And I saw it was and I was just like why? You know, where did this come from?" Barbara said. "It has been years and we have never heard one word or anything and then all of a sudden it was really just like a shock."

In a statement, the Diocese of Arlington said, "There have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Friar Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese."

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Father William Aitcheson said that 40 years have passed since he was in the Ku Klux Klan. Arlington Diocese / WUSA-TV

The Diocese reportedly knew of Aitcheson's history and it was widely reported by the media.

He was sentenced to jail time for mailing threatening letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, and for several cross burnings, including at the Butler's home.

But when it came time to pay the family $23,000 in damages, Aitcheson disappeared.

In 1982, a front-page story published by the Washington Post characterized the Butlers' agony, prompting President and Mrs. Reagan to visit the family at their Maryland home that same afternoon.

"I simply told them what a pleasure it was to come and be able to visit them here and how much I regretted any unpleasantness that they may have had because there shouldn't be any place in our country for that sort of thing," President Reagan said that day.

Decades later, the Butlers are questioning the sincerity of Aitcheson's public confession.

"We really need a closure, you know," Phillip said.

"I will never, ever forget. We didn't deserve this. No one deserves this," Barbara said.

The Butlers not only want an in-person apology but for Aitcheson to disclose other KKK members who helped him.

The Diocese of Arlington says Aitcheson is open to meeting with the Butlers privately. Aitcheson still owes the Butlers $26,000 in damages and the Diocese says it is working with Aitcheson to make restitution.