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Catholics tangled with KKK during Klan’s 1920s resurgence

Pro-white organizations such as the National Socialist Movement and the Ku Klux Klan gather in Temple, Georgia, April 23, 2016. (Credit: CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Given the Ku Klux Klan’s historical animus toward Catholics, one of the most unusual stories that emanated from the aftermath of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” march and its deadly aftermath in Charlottesville, Virginia, was the self-penned admission by a priest in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, that he had been a member of the Klan 40 years ago, before his entry into the seminary.

The revelation came shortly after a freelance journalist – who, as a child, was a member of a Virginia parish where the priest was assigned – connected the dots and linked him to a cross-burning conviction and civil judgments for this and other racial terror tactics not far from the Maryland suburb where he was raised. The priest’s recent request to take a temporary leave from active ministry was granted by the diocese.

The intersection of the KKK with Catholics came to an ugly head in the 1920s, when the second version of the Klan was making inroads not just in the South but throughout the nation. In the 1920s, the Klan mushroomed in membership. Estimates put its number at between 3 million and 5 million – staggering numbers when the total U.S. population in 1920 was 106,021,537. Subtract Catholics, Jews and African-Americans from that total – they were the groups most despised by the KKK – and the Klan’s always-secret membership could have been equal to 15 percent of the eligible population.

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