166 Children in Colorado Were Sexually Abused by Catholic Priests, Including One Who Was a Former State Senator, Report Says

The Colorado Attorney General released a report on Wednesday that named and accused 43 Catholic priests of sexually abusing at least 166 children in Colorado, including a priest who had served as a state senator.

John Beno served as a Democratic senator representing Pueblo from 1981 to 1986, and was a member of the Legislature's most powerful panel: the Joint Budget Committee.

Beno was accused of sexually assaulting two victims in 1961 and 1969. The youngest victim was 5 years old. Beno died in 2000.

According to the report, the unnamed 5-year-old victim said Father John Beno, who was then serving as the assistant pastor at the parish, asked her to come to the rectory with him one day where he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her.

The report goes on to say that the priest forced the girl into silence by "telling her that a child of God does not reveal this kind of incident and that to do so would be a mortal sin."

The victim first reported the abuse in the fall of 1995, and named her rapist a year later. By that time, Beno was already retired and denied any recollection of abuse.

The Pueblo Diocese corroborated the victim's story with records and later paid out a settlement to her, but did not report the allegations to law enforcement.

The second victim said Beno told her to "be silent, that this was God's will and that if she told anyone, her family would be excommunicated."

She reported the abuse to the Diocese of Pueblo after Beno's death.

Some criticized the scope of the report, led by former Colorado attorney general, Bob Troyer, because it relied only on reports that the church had voluntarily turned over.

The investigation still managed to reveal a 263-page report that documented abuse by Catholic priests in Colorado over the last 70 years. In the vast majority of the cases that the church knew about, they did not report the claims to police, as they are required do under state law.

sex abuse protest
According to the report, more than half of the victims were abused after church officials were made aware that priests involved were abusers. Vincenzo Pinto/Getty

"We found, in other words, a strong culture of reluctance to report serious crimes against children if doing so might harm the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church or the career of a fellow priest," Troyer wrote in the report.

In the wake of the report being released, Pueblo Bishop Stephen Berg said the Diocese of Pueblo is giving full efforts in protecting its children.

"I want to be clear that on behalf of myself and the Church, I apologize for the pain and hurt that this abuse has caused, and for any time the Church's leaders failed to prevent it from happening," Berg wrote in a letter to Catholics on Wednesday.

"I am deeply sorry about this devastating and tragic history. I will continue doing everything I can that it may never happen again. It is my sincere and prayerful hope that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing."