Toni Tortorilla remembers being five years old, standing in the back of her church, and feeling a compelling magnetic force drawing her to the altar and to priesthood.
“That’s the only way I can describe it — pulling me to the altar, and in that instance I knew that that’s what I was to do. That’s my life. I knew that,” she says.
Now in her 60s, Tortorilla says that that calling never left her — throughout disappointments, depression, and the turmoil of an evolving church.
Throughout her life, her education and vocation was structured toward the priesthood in a church that didn’t allow it. Through the Second Vatican Council, as the church opened itself up to changes of the 1960s, women had newfound freedoms within the church — except ordination. But following the calling, she says, was in a way, part of the calling.
With the turn of the century, however, even that began to change. Seven women in Germany were ordained on the Danube River, and the future for Tortorilla and others who felt a similar calling would never be the same. Tortorilla was ordained in 2007. Today she leads services in the Sophia Christi Alternative Catholic Community in Portland and Eugene.
Still, the ordination of women is one of the core disputes between the Vatican and women religious, who have tacitly approved of the practice. For Tortorilla, who also identifies as a lesbian, it is an age-old battle of the sexes still in play.
Joanne Zuhl: At what point did it occur to you that you actually could be a priest?
Toni Tortorilla: That didn’t become a reality until 2002. I always pursued being a priest in whatever way I could. I knew that I wasn’t called to be a minister in another denomination. Inside I never stopped being called to priesthood. Many times I was depressed. I would get my hopes up and sort of pursue this line, thinking this will take me closer to doing what I’m called to do. Continue reading