The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart predicts that fellow evangelist Jerry Falwell will permanently merge the embattled PTL empire with his own operations.

"He will just pull it through," Swaggart said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he was resting after a weekend crusade in Vancouver. "It will eventually become part of his ministry."

Swaggart, speaking Tuesday night, said the merger could be arranged without money changing hands. "Who do you pay? It belongs to the people." He noted that Falwell wields great influence over PTL's new board, all of whose members are, like Falwell, non-Pentecostal fundamentalists. He said he intends to press Falwell to put some Pentecostals on the board.

"Jerry's problem now is going to be with his own constituents. There is no affinity between fundamentalist Baptists and fundamentalist Pentecostals and charismatics," Swaggart said, in reference to protests by charismatics who want to oust Falwell, who has condemned such charismatic practices as speaking in tongues.

Asked if Falwell might found a new denomination at PTL, Swaggart said, "That's not a denomination -- that's a battle zone ... If Jerry's not careful, he could get hurt. It will take the wisdom of Solomon to try and solve it."

Falwell took control of PTL March 19 when its founder, evangelist Jim Bakker, resigned after confessing a sexual tryst with a 20-year-old church secretary and the subsequent payments to buy her silence. Bakker, who was ordained by the Assemblies of God church, was later defrocked for adultery as well as "alleged bisexual activities."

Swaggart also said he had wanted to meet with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker informally, "just to try to help them," but backed away this week after a new round of controversy over the future of PTL.

Initially, Bakker had said publicly that he'd asked Falwell to take over PTL when he stepped down. But in an appearance last week on ABC's "Nightline," Bakker accused Falwell of tricking him out of his ministry by depicting a "vicious" Swaggart who was planning a hostile takeover. In a harsh rebuttal, Falwell outlined alleged financial and sexual excesses by Bakker and said Bakker could never return to the ministry he created. "I see the greed, the self-centeredness and the avarice that brought them down," Falwell said.

"After all the hullabaloo, there's no way I could meet with Bakker now," Swaggart said. "I may do it later."

He said a meeting between himself and Bakker had been arranged "without our knowledge" by Swaggart's friend J. Don George, an Irving, Tex., Assemblies of God pastor. But Swaggart said he didn't want to be seen as siding with Bakker against Falwell. "I know flat out it would be interpreted that way," he said of the proposed meeting, which would have taken place last Monday.

Swaggart added, "I don't think Jim Bakker deserves to go back to PTL now."

Of Falwell's ringing denunciations of Bakker last week, Swaggart said, "He may have carried it a little too far. I think he might have been a little too harsh in his statement."

Swaggart said that after talking to Bakker and Falwell on the telephone and listening to their differing accounts of their March meeting, he still is not sure how Falwell gained control of PTL.

"Who do you believe?" said Swaggart, adding that he still has misgivings about Falwell's original meeting with Bakker last March, because neither Swaggart nor his ally, Chattanooga, Tenn., evangelist John Ankerberg, was asked to attend, even though they had discussed such a meeting with Falwell. Swaggart said that if Falwell unilaterally initiated the meeting with Bakker, rather than the other way around, "the onus is on Jerry" to explain his motives.

Swaggart offered the following analysis of the controversy: "If I had to give an opinion, the Pentecostals had the satellite network and all that stuff, and they didn't conduct it right. They conducted it wrong. And the Lord took it away from the Pentecostals because of that."

Swaggart also said: "I don't know what's going to happen. It's conceivable that Bakker and Dortch {Bakker's former deputy Richard Dortch, defrocked for his role in the hush money payment} could go to jail. I pray God that doesn't happen."

That sentiment was echoed by Falwell. During a short visit Tuesday to Heritage USA in Fort Mill, S.C., he said, "I certainly hope, sincerely hope there will be no criminal investigation. I think that the whole cause of Christ stands to suffer, from prolonging this thing in any way."