Catholic Priest, Theologian to Teach Swiss Sex Classes

A Jesuit priest and Catholic theologian are offering a unique sex-education course to couples in Switzerland--and so far, they have the church's approval.

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Priest holding a bible

Nestled amid farmland and forests in central Switzerland, the tiny hamlet of Edlibach is not a likely hotbed of controversy. But that may change in May when a Jesuit priest and a Catholic theologian begin offering sex classes for couples at the village’s Jesuit center.

The seminar, entitled “Make Time and Room for Sensuality,” is intended “to remind people that Catholic doctrine considers sex to be an expression of love and not just a functional act for making babies,” Christian Rutishauser, the priest organizing the course, said in an interview earlier this month with the German-language newspaper Neue Luzerner Zeitung. “Until now, the Church has expressed particular prohibitions and set conditions for sex. It has said little about how sex can be active and positive.”

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In the same newspaper, theologian Eugen Bütler, a sex therapist from the city of Luzerne who will be conducting the seminar, said the course will help couples “go beyond the usual quarter-of-an-hour sex.” According to promotional materials, instruction will take the form of discussions, meditation and unspecified “body exercises.” Participants will also be encouraged to put what they learn into practice on the spot—retreating to private rooms at Edlibach’s Lassalle-Haus spiritual center for “time for love.”

A Catholic-themed course that instructs participants how to improve their sex lives, then urges them to get actually find “time for love” on the premises, would seem destined to incur the wrath of religious leaders. Indeed, both Rutishauser and Bütler declined TIME’s request for interviews because of fears over a possible backlash from the Catholic Church. In an email to TIME, Bütler said Catholic authorities are “allergic to this theme and see a lot of problems with the course,” without specifying what those problems are or whether he and Rutishauser are under pressure to cancel the project.

Although the Lassalle-Haus spiritual center is run by Jesuits, it is not linked to any physical church. And unlike regular parish priests who serve their congregations, Jesuits are mainly involved in missionary work and education. Rutishauser is program director at the center, organizing courses that primarily deal with worship, meditation and spirituality.

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So far, the sex-ed course has not sparked much commotion among Catholic leaders in Switzerland. In fact, the course seems to have the church’s tacit approval. “If presented in the context of the Gospel, such a course could be a positive experience,” Walter Müller, spokesman for the Swiss Bishops Conference, tells TIME. He adds, however, that neither his organization nor the local bishop in charge of Edlibach knows what the instructors plan to teach or whether it will comply with the church’s teachings. The Vatican has also been mum on the issue—its spokesman Father Federico Lombardi did not respond to several emails from TIME for comment on the course.

Even though many details about the seminar remain unknown, at least two things seem clear: First, sex and religion may not be incompatible, and second, innovative ideas can come from the most unlikely places. Sometimes, it really does take a village.

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