CHARLOTTE, N.C., MARCH 19 -- Evangelist Jim Bakker, saying he had been blackmailed by "treacherous former friends" about an alleged sexual encounter, resigned today as chairman of the vast PTL television ministry and was replaced by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell.
PTL employes gasped and cried when they learned of Bakker's resignation at a closed staff meeting hours before his resignation was announced.
Falwell aides said the Virginia television evangelist, who hosts the "Old Time Gospel Hour," took over as PTL chairman at the request of Bakker, whose wife Tammy recently admitted she had been addicted to drugs since the birth of their teen-age daughter.
"My and Tammy's physical and emotional resources have been so overwhelmed that we are presently under full-time therapy at a treatment center in California," Bakker said.
Bakker told The Charlotte Observer that seven years ago, he had been "wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends" who "conspired to betray me into a sexual encounter."
"Unfortunately, money was paid in order to avoid further suffering or hurt to anyone to appease these persons who were determined to destroy the ministry," Bakker told The Observer. "Now, in hindsight, I realize payment should have been resisted and we ought to have exposed the blackmailers to the penalties of the law."
Bakker made the comments in a phone interview with Observer reporters and editors, who asked him about reports that he paid $115,000 after a New York woman claimed to have had sexual relations with the evangelist in a Florida hotel.
Falwell said he agreed to take over the PTL because he feared "a backlash that would hurt every gospel ministry in America, if not the world."
Besides the TV ministry, PTL -- which stands for "Praise the Lord" -- also operates the 2,300-acre Heritage-USA amusement park near Charlotte and a 500-room hotel in South Carolina.
In a videotaped message March 6 from their home in Palm Springs, Calif., the Bakkers and their two children related the family's ordeal with drugs.
Bakker said his wife has been undergoing detoxification at a California drug center since January. The couple's 12-year-old son, Jamie Charles, said his mother was hallucinating during a flight to California and saw people and cats sitting on the wings of the plane.
After she was admitted to the hospital, Tammy Bakker said: "I saw demons coming at me. I saw hell. It was like Satan was trying to kill me."