MUMBAI, India – A group of lay faithful in southwestern India is accusing the local diocese of financial mismanagement and unethical practices.

Dozens of Catholics held a silent protest on March 3 in Chikmagalur, located in India’s Karnataka state.

In a letter has been addressed to Bishop T. Anthony Swamy of Chikmagalur, the group accuses a local priest of misusing funds given by government for a building.

“The church was not built. Where the money has gone?” the letter asks, before listing a string of allegations of the misappropriation of funds by various people in the diocese.

“The bishop’s unjust acts have motivated his associate priests to enter into many more fraudulent acts such as manipulating church documents, scamming government money by showing fake progress, involving church assets in illegal deals, the list goes on,” said Michael S. Baptist, a board member of the St. Joseph Educational Society.

“He has kept such corrupt priests under his protective cloak. His autocratic attitude has suppressed democracy among the laity,” he told Crux.

The allegations have been hanging over the diocese for over two years, and Swamy has long denied any wrongdoing.

Father Anthony Raj, the rector of the Shrine of the Infant Jesus, told Crux he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

“With regards to my case – my side – there is no misappropriation of funds, and no corruption done. There is no truth in what they are alleging. I am ready for any type of enquiry,” the priest said.

Land disputes and accusations of financial misconduct are frequent events in the Church in India, and Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly in neighboring Kerala state faced similar allegations, leading to a Vatican investigation.

The Diocese of Chikmagalur also suffers from ethnic feuds, with Tamil-speaking, Kannada-speaking and Konkani-speaking Catholics often suspicious of one another.