DOJ investigation leads to discovery of additional credibly accused priest in La Crosse Diocese

Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]

March 17, 2023

By Laura Schulte

MADISON – A new name has been added to the list of credibly accused priests within the La Crosse Diocese as a result of the Attorney General’s inquiry into abuse perpetrated by clergy and other faith leaders across the state.

John J. Cullinan, who served at St. Paul’s Church in Mosinee and St. Mary’s Church in Wausau, was added to the list on Dec. 20, over two years after the diocese first published their list, the attorney general’s office confirmed this week.

“With consent from survivors, DOJ provided information about allegations regarding Father Cullinan to the Diocese of La Crosse, which then followed its process for adding Father Cullinan to its list of those with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel.

“We are grateful that survivors have reported abuse to the Wisconsin Department of Justice through our Clergy and Faith Leader Abuse Initiative. We respect the courage of those survivors, some of whom were reporting abuse for the first time.”

According to the diocese’s website, Cullinan has multiple substantiated allegations of abuse. He was ordained in 1939 and died in 1974, and was a non-diocesan priest, meaning he was part of another Catholic order. The claims of abuse happened during his time with the La Crosse Diocese. The site did not specify which order he was a part of.

No further information was available on the website about Cullinan, and diocesan officials did not respond to a request for comment.

La Crosse originally released its list of credibly accused abusers in January 2020, with 18 clergy members who were part of the diocese:

Bruce Ball, Raymond Bornbach, Eugene Comiskey, Thomas Dempsey, James Ennis, James Finucan, John Thomas Finucan, Tom Garthwaite, Richard Herrmann, William Hertzenberg, Thomas Langer, James E. Mason, Garland Muller, Charles Rasmussen, Albert Sonnberger, James Stauber, Patrick Umberger and Raymond J. Wagner. 

The diocese also named two priests who were part of other Catholic orders but were accused of abuse while serving in the La Crosse diocese: Timothy Svea and Bogdan Werra. 

The list also included five priests who spent time in the diocese and whose names appeared on other Catholic diocese and religious order lists of suspected abusers: Dennis Bouche, Daniel Budzynski, Orville Munie, Joseph Smetana and Francis Zimmerer. 

Since the release of the list, a number of new names have been added to the diocesan clergy list: Cletus Abts, Stephen Andrel, Paul Flad, Hugo Koehler, Joseph Sullivan and Carl Wohlmuth.

Several names have also been added to the non-diocesan clergy list: Benedict Adams, Floyd Brey, J. Michael Cannon, Thomas R. Haller, J. Roger Lucey, Charles Meyer, Cyril Nwankwo, James O’Connor and Michael Spegele.

Kaul launched the investigation into clergy abuse in April 2021 and since has generated about 250 reports from across the state, according to a spokesperson for the department. Reports so far have included 198 individuals accused of abuse and 74 individuals who have reported abuse to law enforcement for the first time.

Two tips to the department have so far resulted in charges being brought in two counties against two men. Neither was affiliated with the Catholic Church or Catholic religious orders.

In May 2022, an arrest warrant was issued for 61-year-old Jeffrey Anthony Charles, who police say sexually assaulted a minor at a cabin in Douglas County between 2005 and 2010. 

Charles served as the pastor for the nondenominational church Neighbors to Nations in Princeton, Minn., at the time of the assaults, but routinely traveled to his Wisconsin cabin with parishioners. He is accused of assaulting the victim four times over the course of five years, while the victim was between the ages of 3 and 7. 

In February 2022, Remington Jon Nystrom, 33, was charged with one count of first-degree sexual contact with a child under 13 in connection with an incident that occurred in 2009. Nystrom was a counselor at a Mount Morris camp in Waushara County when, police say, he inappropriately touched a sleeping child. The camp is affiliated with the Moravian Church of America.

Two cases have also been handed over to Brown County investigators, but no charges have yet been filed there. 

How do I report abuse?

To file a report, call 877-222-2620 or use the online reporting tool at Both options provide the ability to file an anonymous tip. 

The department is still accepting reports and said survivors have control of what happens after their report is received. 

Laura Schulte can be reached at and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura