A former Nicaraguan government official who provoked the ire of numerous Protestant leaders for a perceived attempt to promote Catholicism in public schools is the new head of a Southern Baptist school in San Marcos.

Humberto Belli has been named head of the University of Mobile's (UM) Latin America campus while the Alabama institution seeks a buyer for the branch it plans to close next year.

Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan has donated $1 million to keep the campus open through June 2000. Monaghan, who earlier financed construction of Managua's new cathedral, wants eventually to transform the campus into a Catholic institution.

Belli, a devout Catholic, served seven years as Nicaragua's minister of education when, in August 1998, President Arnoldo Aleman named him minister of the family (CT, Oct. 26, 1998, p. 26). Last December, Belli resigned, citing dissatisfaction with his successor as education minister and an insufficient budget to run the ministry.

UM President Mark Foley disputes rumors that Belli's appointment indicates the branch already has become Catholic. He calls the two faiths' search for a group to take over the Nicaragua campus "a unique opportunity for Southern Baptists and Catholics to join their resources and their energies in finding God's will and God's plan for Christ-centered education in Nicaragua."

As minister of education, Belli assisted the Alabama Baptists in establishing the branch campus in 1993. "He is a Christian gentleman of the highest caliber," Foley says of Belli.

American Baptist Gustavo Parajon, founder of the Nicaraguan evangelical relief organization CEPAD, believes that Belli should not lead UM's San Marcos campus. "It will not be a Baptist university anymore," he says.

Allegations of financial mismanagement plagued the Nicaraguan branch for several years.

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