Every year, different colleges take turns hosting a dinner with the bishop of the Erie diocese.
This year, Gannon University is hosting the dinner Friday with Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.
The dinner is open to all Catholic campus ministries in the diocese and university students.
The dinner is a time for students to talk personally with Persico and ask questions or bring up their concerns.
Brent Heckman, director of Campus Ministry, said that he anticipates a lot of the discussion will be primarily about the grand jury report.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro published the report on Aug. 14 concerning sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Erie.
Heckman said that students from different colleges will be in attendance; however, many of the students will be from Gannon.
Registration for the dinner ended at 9 a.m. Tuesday and around 70 students are expected to attend.
A Mass will be held at 5 p.m. in the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel prior to the dinner.
The music ministry will be at Mass and Rev. Michael Kesicki will be presiding.
Following Mass, the dinner will be held at 6 p.m. in the Yehl Ballroom in the Waldron Campus Center.
Persico will be at the dinner but not present at the Mass.
Heckman said that there are three points that students will likely ask.
The first question is how a Catholic can trust the leadership in the church after everything that has come up.
Going off that point, if someone does still trust the church, then how might he/she talk to others who disagree or how might he/she encourage others to regain their trust in the Catholic church.
And finally, if you feel you are unable to trust the church again, one may wonder how he/she can trust God outside of the church.
At the dinner, students will have the freedom and space to bring up anything they want with the bishop.
It is meant to be a casual evening to make a personal connection with Persico.
Heckman said that the grand jury report is a bigger deal for some than it is for others.
Therefore, more students may want clarification from Persico about what the report was, what is currently happening within the church and what he is doing as bishop.
The goal of the dinner is to show students and young adults in the Catholic church that the church will listen, that it cares and wants to hear their concerns.
Heckman said that youth participation has gone down throughout the diocese and the church as a whole, so that’s why an event like this dinner is important.
“It’s targeted toward younger people to discuss their concerns because they really matter,” Heckman said.
“The dinner is for students to get to know Persico better and to bring up anything that’s on their mind.”
He said that this event is creating a space for concerns to create a mutual dialogue.
On Oct. 17, David L. Poulson, a former Catholic priest, pleaded guilty to two third-degree felonies in connection with the grand jury’s investigation.
Poulson, 64, taught at Gannon from June 1, 1982 until Aug. 9, 1997. He was an instructor in the philosophy department.
Poulson was arrested and charged in May by the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro and was in court on Oct. 17.
Poulson pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children in a hearing in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court, according to a case update from the Office of the Attorney General.
In May, Poulson was charged with eight counts by the Attorney General’s Office, including indecent assault.
According to the plea agreement, the two counts to which Poulson pleaded guilty consolidate the allegations contained in all the other charges.
Poulson was a priest for four decades in the Diocese of Erie.
Persico said that Poulson was forced to resign as a priest in February in light of the investigation.
Persico also removed Poulson from active ministry.
The Catholic Diocese of Erie started investigating Poulson in January under Persico’s direction.
Persico issued a statement following Poulson’s court appearance last week.
“As we did in the Poulson prosecution,” Persico said, “we will continue to bring all reports of sexual misconduct with minors to the immediate attention of law enforcement, and fully cooperate with them during their investigation.”