A Catholic priest sentenced to 20 years in prison as an accomplice in the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi was paroled on Friday and spoke out to assert his innocence.

"It was hard to spend so much time in prison being innocent," the Rev. Mario Orantes told reporters outside a courtroom in Guatemala City, adding that he plans to resume his priestly duties.

He said he will seek a meeting with Archbishop Oscar Vian in the coming days to receive a new assignment.

Orantes, who served 12 years behind bars, was granted early release based on good behavior.

Another man convicted for Gerardi's murder, retired army Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, was paroled last July.

Lima Estrada's son and co-conspirator, Capt. Byron Lima Oliva, has been turned down twice by the courts in his bid for early release.

Bishop Gerardi, 75, was found beaten to death in the garage of the rectory where he lived just two days after a commission he led released a report documenting 55,000 human rights violations during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, most of them committed by the army.