By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor
The United Methodist Church is investigating voting irregularities at its General Conference, which decided last month to reinforce policies that bar openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage. A probe by church organizers and an independent auditor looked into the credentialing process for the more than 800 Methodist delegates who voted at the conference, held inside a football stadium in St. Louis.
A “very limited number” of ineligible delegates were able to obtain voting credentials, the Rev. Gary W. Graves, secretary of the General Conference, said in a statement. He did not give a more specific number.
“We take the integrity of the legislative process very seriously, and the breakdown in the process is troubling,” said Graves, who added that the matter is being referred to the church’s Commission on the General Conference.
Methodist leaders are also consulting with the parliamentarian during General Conference about whether the irregularities affected the church’s legislative voting.
The irregularities are likely not large enough to overturn the vote to uphold the church’s ban on LGBT clergy, which passed by a tally of 438-384, according to United Methodist News Service.
Called the Traditional Plan, the proposal passed with strong support from Methodists in Africa and Asia, where the church is growing. But church leaders said the move will almost surely lead more liberal members to leave the mainline denomination.
The irregularities could affect other important votes, however. One amendment, which would have allowed churches to depart from the denomination while keeping their property in some cases, failed by only two votes.
The United Methodist Church’s supreme court, the Judicial Council, will review that amendment and the Traditional Plan itself in April.
During the General Conference, United Methodists also voted to investigate possible “vote buying” at the meeting.
The United Methodist Church has about 12.5 million members worldwide, including almost 7 million in the United States.