Catholic Church in Switzerland begins counselling service for sex workers

The programme will be run in the heart of the red light district in the city of Basel, north-west Switzerland.Reuters

"I'm not here to judge, and certainly not to condemn," were the words of a theologian who will lead a landmark counselling service for prostitutes in Switzerland.

Anne Burgmer will work in the heart of the red light district in the city of Basel, which sits on the Rhine in north-west Switzerland. The programme, 'Spiritual Welfare for the Taboo', will begin next year, and Burgmer will spend time with women in the sex trade, mostly listening, but also offering spiritual guidance.

The initiative is being supported by the Church in Switzerland. Bishop of Basel, Felix Gmür, told a press conference on Thursday: "I want a church that goes out to the people. Our task is to go to those who have no lobby".

His words echo those of Pope Francis, who in 2013 said, "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." Caring for the poor and vulnerable has been a key tenet of his papacy, and his call for the faithful to follow suit has been taken seriously by Burgmer.

She said she considers it "an order".

"We must increasingly go back to the people, especially the marginalised," she added.

Figures show that the number of sex workers in Basel doubled to 3,200 between 2008 and 2012. Many of them are from overseas; largely the Philippines, South America and Hungary.

"Many women who work in this milieu, come from countries where the Catholic Church is much more deeply rooted than here," Burgmer said, according to the Catholic Herald.

The Catholic Church in Basel has in the past offered a similar counselling service to people with AIDS.