A Colombian court has ordered the Catholic Church here to pay the parents of two children abused by a priest $240,000, a first in this devoutly Catholic country, church officials said.

The church has appealed the judgment handed down by a court in the city of Ibague against the dioceses of Libano and Honda, the secretary general of the Colombian conference of bishop's said.

"The priest has already been punished, and there is not a contractual relationship between him and the church. It is not a work relationship, but a spiritual one. This is a private matter related to personal conduct," he said.

The priest, Luis Enrique Duque Valencia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for abusing two boys, ages 7 and 11, who he had taken in along with their families because they had been driven from their homes by war.

Colombian courts have previously sentenced several priests for pedophilia, but never before have sentenced the church as an institution.

The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by pedophilia scandals in many other countries, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and the United States.