A Fermanagh priest who helped his gay lover groom and rape a 12-year-old girl has been released from jail and defrocked by his religious order.

Father Jeremiah McGrath, the 65-year-old former parish priest in Rosslea, was jailed for five years for aiding and abetting paedophile William Adams to rape the girl.

He has served half that sentence but has been released on licence and is now living in a halfway house in Liverpool.

The jury at his trial heard that he met Adams when Adams was 21 and living in a hostel for the homeless in Dublin and initiated a sexual relationship with him. He knew Adams was later convicted of raping an eight-year-old girl and jailed for 12 years. During that time he visited him and wrote to him.

At McGrath's trial at Liverpool Crown Court the jury heard that the priest gave Adams £20,000 to lavish treats, clothes and holidays on the child.

McGrath admitted having a homosexual relationship with Adams but denied knowing that he was repeatedly raping and sexually abusing the 12-year-old girl. He said he was so besotted with Adams he was blind to what was happening.

On Tuesday of this week, McGrath's former religious order, St. Patrick's Missionary Society, revealed that he has since been defrocked and is no longer a priest or a member of the religious order.

McGrath was suspended from the ministry as soon as the allegations came to light in December 2005 but he was not defrocked until July 17 this year.

A spokesman for St. Patrick's Missionary Society, Kiltegan, County Wicklow, explained: "The matter was referred to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.

"On July 17, 2009, we were informed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Jeremiah McGrath has been laicised," he stated.

That is the most serious punishment that can be handed down by the Vatican.

"He is no longer a member of St. Patrick's Missionary Society," the spokesman added.

The Society also repeated its apology to the young girl who was raped.

"Having learned that Jeremiah McGrath has been released from prison, the Society, once again, deeply regrets the abuse and breach of trust that has taken place," the spokesman said.

"The Society apologises most sincerely to the victim and to her family. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family," he added.

"We also offer our apology to all who have been affected by this breach of trust by one of our former members," he stated.

Brian McCaffrey, who is from Rosslea and a Sinn Fein member of Fermanagh District Council, said people in the area would be shocked that McGrath has been released from prison.

"He's not welcome here," stated Mr. McCaffrey.

"I'm surprised, he would appear to be released ahead of what I think most people understood to be his due release date," he said.

"His actions and the betrayal of the people of this parish will always be remembered," said Mr. McCaffrey.

It is understood McGrath was released on November 18, and is obliged to remain in Liverpool under his probation terms.

He was sentenced to five years but the Prison Service in England said prisoners are entitled to serve half their terms in jail and the other half in the community on licence.