TEGA CAY, S.C. -- Attorney Melvin Belli said yesterday that singer Pat Boone or some other neutral caretaker should temporarily lead PTL while its members decide between Jim Bakker and his successor Jerry Falwell to run the television ministry.

Falwell dismissed Belli's entry into the matter as "lots of theatrics" and said yesterday that the ministry has "hard days ahead."

"We're bringing in all the actors and lawyers, but God sits in the heavens and smiles at all this monkey business. The ministry here is the emphasis," Falwell said.

The Bakkers, represented by Belli, won't return to PTL because "there is very little chance the court will allow the fox back into the henhouse," Falwell said.

"We have to stop all this bitterness and mudslinging," Belli said. "We ought to get Pat Boone as sort of a caretaker on this and let him sit in. He has no ax to grind."

Falwell said PTL needs no new caretaker and said its board is happy with its current management.

Boone, a charismatic Christian like Bakker, said yesterday that he hadn't officially been offered the mediator's job and declined to say if he would accept it.

"His hopes are that Jerry and Jim and their attorneys will get together in a room, close the doors, pray and not come out until they have a meeting of their hearts and minds and put the whole thing to rest," said Boone's manager, Pat Swift.

Boone told Cable News Network that Falwell earlier had asked him to be on PTL's board but that he had declined because of other commitments. Belli said Falwell, a fundamentalist who also heads a ministry based in Lynchburg, Va., should take care of his own business.

Falwell "doesn't have, or shouldn't have, the time to take care of another ministry, particularly when the other ministry is of a different faith," Belli said. "I don't think he should be foisting his faith {on the charismatic PTL}."

Both sides will have their say when a judge hears PTL's plans for reorganization under the protection of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The plan must be accepted by a majority of PTL's creditors, which include contractors and the TV stations that carry the ministry's program. PTL, which stands for People That Love or Praise the Lord, listed 1,400 creditors who are owed $72 million.

Attorney Jim Toms of Hendersonville, N.C., working with Belli, told reporters yesterday that Boone and a board of ministers and businessmen could come up with a plan to pull PTL out of debt.