Archbishop William D. Borders of Baltimore this week launched what is believed to be the first church-sponsored internship program to train women for administrative positions in the Catholic Church in this country.
Sister Sharon Ann Euart, 33, an assistant principal at the Mercy High School in Baltimore, was chosen Thursday as the Intern in this pilot program.
This training program is the first major step taken by the archbishop to fulfill promise made last month to open up new leadership opportunities for women in the church.
The archdiocesan announcement said in addition to training future administrators, the internship program is expected to "identify and address the elements of institutional sexism which have excluded women from key decision roles in the church."
The Baltimore program is not concerned with preparing women for the priesthood, a possiblity which was ruled out by a Vatican decision last January.
The Baltimore archdiocese where the new program has been introduced, includes 455,000 parishioners in Baltimore city and in Maryland's northern tier of countries stretching from Harford on the east to Garrett on the west.
In addition to opening up leadership roles for women, the new program could ultimately relieve the growing shortage of priests in the Catholic Church by enabling ordained men to turn over many administrative positions to women who have been trained for the jobs.
Many such posts, explained the Rev. John Geaney, director of communications for the archdiocese, have traditionally been held by priests, "not because of theology, not because of church law, but because they've just always been held by ordained men."
Father Geany acknowledged that his own job as communications officer was one which could be filled by a man or woman, as could such posts as personnel, management and planning executives and administrators of Catholic school systems and Catholic Charities. Already, the Catholic Charities organization, in the Baltimore Archdiocese, is headed by a woman.
In addition to its training aspects, Sister Euart's year-long internship has been conceived as a pilot study to determine whether the internship is a workable method for bringing women into church leadership roles, Father Geaney said.
If it is successful the archdiocese is planning to expand the program to five candidates next year, Father Geaney said.
Sister Euart, who has been an administrator at Merey High School for the past five years said yesterday that she expected her intern year would "open all kinds of horizons" to her.
She noted that since the Second Vatican Council, 15 years ago, "the church has been trying to develop a new outlook on the position of women in the church." That effort, she continued "has been overshadowed by an over emphasis on ordination for women."
During her intern year Sister Euart will spend 10 weeks in each of the five administrative units of the Baltimore Archdiocese personnel, education, Catholic Charities, management and planning and the office of the archbishop.
At the completion of her training, said Father Geaney, it is expected she will be "qualified to fill an administrative post in any diocese in the country."