The sources say a formal split between liberals and conservatives in the Church over homosexuality is likely to result in a protracted dispute over the ownership of parish funds, manses and other property.

The Sunday Herald can also reveal the evangelicals, fronted by the Fellowship of Confessing Churches (FCC), are being supported by right-wing politicians in Northern Ireland in their bid to stop gay people becoming ministers.

The Church of Scotland is in serious danger of fracturing after its General Assembly voted to approve the appointment of openly gay minister Scott Rennie to a post in Aberdeen.

The decision split the Kirk and was accompanied by a two-year moratorium on the appointment of more gay clergy while a special commission investigates the issue of same-sex relationships.

But the row has prompted 45 parishes to sign up to the FCC, an evangelical group unequivocally opposed to homosexual ministers. A handful of ministers have resigned their posts in protest at the Church’s liberal stance, while a few parishes are said to be considering withholding funds from the central Kirk.

The Rev Louis Kinsey of St Columba’s in Aberdeen said last week that a schism was “the only logical response to the Church of Scotland’s procrastination at the General Assembly”.

Two senior Church sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the likely evangelical breakaway in 2011 would result in a costly legal battle over the £2bn in investments, property and local funds held by the Kirk and

its parishes. One source said: “Around 40% of parishes subsidise the other 60%, but most of the FCC parishes are in the poorer 40%. This means they are not wealthy enough yet to survive.

“What they are going to try and do is sign up as many parishes as possible to become financially viable. They will then say they are the Church Continuing and argue their case in court.”

He continued: “The right-wing is trying to look for an opportunity to split. They will argue that when there’s a split, the property should stay with them. If they are ‘faithful’ they will argue that they are the real church.”

Another senior church figure said: “There’s a bigger game being played by the FCC. It’s whether they are using Scott Rennie’s case as the leverage for what they really want to do, which is leave the Church of Scotland with their buildings intact.”

Harry Reid, who wrote a critically acclaimed book on the Kirk, said a legal dispute over money and assets could dog the Church for years.

“Finance is one of the biggest issues. If a split was to occur, there would be an absolute legal nightmare,” he said.

Meanwhile conservative politicians in Northern Ireland have signed an FCC petition opposing gay ministers.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor and Orange Lodge chaplain Sam Cole is supporting the campaign. His colleague Maurice Bradley, a former mayor of Coleraine, is also on the list.

Cole said: “If my minister declared himself openly gay, I would leave that church.”

Around ten members of former DUP leader Ian Paisley’s church have backed the anti-gay position, as have Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy and party councillor David Barbour.

More than a hundred members of the Presbyterian Church of America, which does not ordain women, have expressed solidarity.

The name of Sir David McNee, former chief constable of Strathclyde, is also on the petition.

There was no reply to an email to the Fellowship of Confessing Churches.