Traditionalists have for some years accused Catholic schools of abandoning official church teachings, criticising multi-faith RE as little more than sociology.
Some have gone so far as to blame schools for the dramatic decline in mass attendance by the young.
This week bishops set a precedent by adopting a common approach to RE. The Curriculum Directory for Religious Education in Catholic Schools is intended to improve the clarity and academic rigour of RE, said the Bishops' Catholic Education Service this week.
"There was a feeling that RE needed to be as academically challenging as any other subject," said Margaret Smart, director of the CES. "There is a concern that while we must deal with the pastoral needs of young people we must not abandon the basic tenets of the faith."
The directory covers all four key stages in primary and secondary schools. It explains the role of RE as lying at the heart of Catholic education, and it provides programmes of study based on revelation (teaching of the Trinity), the church, celebration (liturgy, sacraments and prayer) and living a Christian life.
There has been particular controversy over child-centred schemes of work. Bishop Vincent Nichols stressed that the main aim of the document was to help schools to evaluate their teaching material, and to generate more of their own.
In the preface to the directory the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Hume, writes: "The work of classroom teaching of the Catholic faith has never been more important or demanding. So many influences in our society tend to undermine the the practice of the faith."