Accusations against the Rev. John Beno stun Puebloans
By Anthony A. Mestas
October 25, 2019
Pueblo politicians who worked with the late Rev. John Beno — and undoubtedly many people in the community — were shocked when they heard the sex abuse allegations levied against the popular and well-known Catholic priest, who also was a former state senator.
Beno was one of 43 Catholic priests named in the Colorado Special Master’s Report on child sexual abuse that accused them of sexually abusing at least 166 children in Colorado since 1950. The report was initiated by the Colorado Attorney General’s office, in cooperation with the Catholic dioceses in Colorado, including the Pueblo Diocese.
As a two-term state senator, Beno, a Democrat, served on the state’s Joint Budget and Senate Appropriations committees. He first was elected to the Senate in 1978 and left office in 1986.
The Pueblo Chieftain reached out to several people who worked with Beno politically. Most did not want to comment about the news because they weren’t entirely familiar with the report, but they did express shock.
The news also rocked Pueblo Catholics, many of whom sent emails to The Chieftain.
Mary Beth Corsentino, who has been active in local politics for many years, said Friday that the news hit her hard.
“My earliest memories of Father Beno were as an elementary student. I was a student at St. Therese (a former Pueblo Catholic elementary school at the Shrine of St. Therese),” Corsentino said.
She said she used to attend Junior Parochial League football games at the field at the Sacred Heart Orphanage.
“There was a little concession stand there and Father Beno was always there. He bought candy for all of us when we’d watch the games. Everybody just loved him,” Corsentino said.
Corsentino said she later got involved in local politics and came to know Beno as a smart politician.
“I remembered him as being really confident. He was ahead of his time when it came to computers. Father Beno knew how to use formulas with computers,” Corsentino said.
“He really understood budgets and finance. That’s why he was on the Joint Budget Committee. I thought as a young adult, at that point, that he was an amazing state senator.”
Corsentino said she was shocked when she read the report.
“I recognized a lot of the priests’ names listed. I am in shock about pretty much all of them,” said Corsentino, who attended Catholic schools for 12 years. “It’s just very sad.”
Beno died on Dec. 5, 2000, when he was 69 years old. Hundreds of people attended his funeral at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Former state Sen. Abel Tapia, a Pueblo Democrat who also served as Colorado Lottery director, said he felt distant to Beno both as a student at St. Francis Xavier parochial Sshool in Pueblo, where Beno was accused of sexually abusing one of his two victims. and later when Tapia was getting started in poliltics.
“I think Pueblo in general is just in shock and very dismayed and disappointed,” Tapia said.
Tapia was in school at St. Francis for eight years.
“I actually knew him as a priest at St. Francis and then several years later I knew him as a politician,” Tapia said.
“I never served with him. I was never very close to Father Beno. I just didn’t really like him too much. I don’t think he liked me. He was always very close with the girls and some of the guys he never really got close to and that was me, too.”
Tapia said still he was in shock to hear the news.
“He represented Pueblo very well. But even at that capacity, I just felt distance from him. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to call him my mentor or seek him out. He was very cordial to me when I became a state senator and served on the budget committee,” Tapia said of Beno, a fellow Democrat.
“There was just something about him that I just didn’t feel very comfortable with.
″... To know that when I was a grade school kid that he may have been preying on the people that I went to school with just really sets me back,” Tapia said.
“I didn’t know about it firsthand and I just feel so bad for those people who did suffer that.”
In 1986, Beno was pressed with the decision of whether or not to be a priest or a politician. At that time, the Vatican had ruled he couldn’t do both any longer.
Because of a change in Roman Catholic Church’s canon law, priests were prohibited from holding office. Beno, who became a priest in 1959, left politics — an action that gained national attention. After that, he served as the Diocese of Pueblo’s vicar of finance.
He served on several boards in committees in Pueblo as well. Beno also heavily supported local high school basketball and volleyball teams.
Colorado’s Catholic dioceses have put together a settlement fund for those who were sexually abused by priests, and several victims already have applied for benefits.