A private organisation called the Catholic League had been threatening to "blacken" the Disney company, which, through its Miramax subsidiary, is responsible for distribution of the BBC-produced film.
In the film, the lead character is a young cleric in a poor neighbourhood of Liverpool who succumbs to homosexual instincts after meeting a man in a gay bar and, in a sexually explicit scene, later goes to bed with him.
William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, suggested that the film, which has been generally well reviewed by American critics, was a "propaganda" work that "invites the audience to see the Catholic Church as the causative agent of priestly despair, and is a cruel caricature". Of the five priests portrayed in the film, two engage in sexual relations (gay and straight), while the other three, according to Mr Donahue are a "drunk", a "madman" and a "heartless, tyrannical" bishop.
Most provocative, however, was the decision by Miramax to choose 14 April, Good Friday, as the day for general US release, even though the film opened yesterday in New York and Los Angeles. That, according to Mr Donahue, whose group has 200,000 members, "crossed the line of decency".
Miramax yesterday defended the film's content, but announced it was moving the country-wide release to 19 April."Frankly, we were surprised by the vehemence of the reaction to the release date," a spokesman said. "But our goal is not to alienate people."
A company executive, Mark Gill, has admitted that the Good Friday date was chosen deliberately on the ground that that is when most Americans are focused on church and spiritual issues.