ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. -- Richard Dortch, former top aide to PTL founder Jim Bakker, announced this week he is starting a ministry to serve people in crisis.

At a news conference, Dortch said he had not been in contact with Bakker for three months and refused to answer questions about his own or PTL's legal problems.

Instead he spoke of Life Challenges Inc., a ministry that will operate out of Clearwater, Fla.

The new ministry, which will be operating in three to six months, will try to find people who are "in a major crisis," Dortch said. He said he and his staff will serve as crisis managers.

"I know something about the hurts of people," said Dortch. "I'm just getting to a time now where I'm not spending a great deal of my time crying."

Dortch, a 17-year member and president of PTL who was ousted from the ministry and defrocked by the Assemblies of God Church after Bakker's fall, added, "I'm very much aware of the fact that we will have to earn our confidence."

Dortch said he will serve as president of Life Challenges and his salary and expenses will be decided by a board selected from clergy and business and professional people.

Financial statements will be given to the public and officers' salaries will be disclosed, he said.

Bakker, who lost PTL following disclosures of a sexual liaison with and payments to former church secretary Jessica Hahn, will not be associated with Life Challenges, Dortch said.

Dortch refused to comment about whether it would be linked with the Assemblies of God.

He said his new group will use television, newspapers and world of mouth to publicize the ministry, and expects to support itself through contributions.

He said services will not be limited to spiritual matters, but will include legal and medical counseling.

A committee will make selections on what projects the outreach program will accept.