Priest Apologizes For Lighting Cross On Couple’s Lawn

Image courtesy of the Catholic Herald

Rev. William Aitcheson was 23 at the time of the incident in 1977. The Butlers, now in their 70s, were newlyweds.

In January of 1977, Phillip and Barbara Butler were young black newlyweds who had recently settled into their College Park, Maryland home when 23-year-old William Aitcheson - a member of the Ku Klux Klan - set a wooden cross ablaze in their yard.

Four decades later in August of 2017, Aitcheson - now a Roman Catholic priest - penned a letter of apology to the Butlers and attempted to pay the restitution owed them from 40 years ago. He credited the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia as the impetus for his apology.

In his letter, which was obtained by local station WUSA, the repentant priest wrote: "You became my target at the time because I did not believe that people of different races should live together. I was blinded by hate and ignorance. … I believe now that all people can live together in peace regardless of race."

The Butlers were not inclined to forgive and forget the terror they suffered at the hands of Aitcheson and believe they are owed more money than he initially sent them.

At first, the Butlers refused to open Aitcheson's letter and the restitution, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, of which Aitcheson belongs, said in a statement Friday. Now, the diocese added, the couple is willing to accept the checks and have also asked for an extra $9,600 to cover attorney's fees.

Aitchenson was sentenced to 90 days in jail for multiple cross burnings, which is in part why he never paid the $23,000 the Butlers were awarded. In 1988 he was ordained as a priest.

[The Butlers' attorney Ted] Williams said that the Butlers are also planning a lawsuit against the church for attempting to obscure crucial information about his past actions. Williams also indicated that by the church giving Aitcheson a public platform in August to use for confessing his tainted past, it caused the family more harm.