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Swiss Church to set up counselling centre for Basel’s 3,000 prostitutes

Journalist and theologian Anne Burgmer is in charge of the service

The Catholic Church in Switzerland is setting up a counselling service for prostitutes, which it claims is the first of its kind.

The Church in the city of Basel has set up a service called Spiritual Welfare for the Taboo, to provide counselling for women in the sex trade.

Journalist and theologian Anne Burgmer will listen to the women, pray with them and ask for God’s blessing.

Her office will be in the heart of the red light district, housed within an existing counselling centre for prostitutes.

The service is scheduled to run for three years and will start on January 1.

At a press conference Burgmer said she was “not here to judge, and certainly not to condemn”.

While there are already similar services available, Burgmer said the Church’s aim would be to “accompany [the women] spiritually”.

Burgmer said she saw the service as a response to a call from Pope Francis.

“I understand that Pope Francis’s quote – ‘Better a Church with bumps that is travelling on the road than a Church that is sick because she has locked herself’ – as an order,” she said.

“We must increasingly go back to the people, especially the marginalised.”

The city of Basel reportedly has 3,000 prostitutes, many who come from South America, the Philippines, Hungary, Germany and Spain.

“Many women who work in this milieu, come from countries where the Catholic Church is much more deeply rooted than here,” Burgmer added.

The Church has said the service is the first of its kind, though similar projects are run across the world.

One such scheme is run in London by Sister Lynda Dearlove. Women at the Well, based in King’s Cross, provides shelter as well as a place for women to feel cared for.

Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, speaking in support of the programme, said: “I want a Church that goes out to the people.”

The Catholic Church in Basel offered a similar service to people suffering from Aids, but this was closed after the number of people infected dropped considerably.