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Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Timothy Dolan Will Join Matt Lauer On 'Today' At Vatican

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In its first visit to the papal state since the death of Pope John Paul II, NBC’s "Today" show will broadcast live from Vatican City on Thursday in an hour-long show that will include behind-the-scenes footage of Pope Benedict XVI and a wide-ranging interview with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The show, which is being taped Wednesday and Thursday at the Vatican, comes on the heels of the the first meeting of a new Vatican council to promote the church in the face of rising secularism in the West.

A "Today" show producer said the archbishop, who is also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will discuss topics including the church’s sexual abuse scandals, the decline in church attendance in Europe, changes in church demographics in the United States, his journey to priesthood and his time as a Roman Catholic university professor in Rome in the 1990s.

Dolan, who the pope appointed to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization shortly after the group was announced in October, arrived at the Vatican over the weekend for the group's meeting. There, the pope encouraged bishops to start “giving reasons for faith in today's circumstances” and said today’s “crisis involves the exclusion of God" and "widespread indifference to Christian faith to the point of marginalizing religion in public life.”

Thursday's episode of "Today" will not include an interview with the pope, but camera crews taped the pontiff in more private moments at his Apostolic Palace home. Clips show “him putting on his vestments, having breakfast, getting ready to address the crowd in St. Peter’s Square,” said Executive Producer Jim Bell. He added that the Pope will come out to greet the show's anchors, Matt Lauer and Al Roker.

Bell said the show will touch upon the ancient church’s effort’s to connect to the flock through new technologies. In January, Pope Benedict formally praised social networking technologies but said they should not replace in-person contact. The proclamation followed up on efforts by Pope John Paul II, under whom the first Vatican web site launched in 1995.

Experts on the U.S. Catholic Church say Dolan’s appearance is part of a concerted effort to up his profile on the national scene. The episode of "Today" will mark the second time in recent months that the head of New York’s 2.5-million member church has appeared on national television. In March, Dolan was featured prominently on CBS’ "60 Minutes." The episode portrayed him as jovial leader who enjoys socializing and drinking beer, but it also showed him as an strong defender of Catholic tradition and social teachings.

“Dolan is certainly the emerging player in the North American church,” said Christopher Bellitto, an Associate Professor of History at Kean University in Union, NJ. “He certainly enjoys throwing an elbow. He pushes back against anti-Catholicism, and there is plenty of it.”

Archdiocese of New York spokesman Joseph Zwilling said the "Today" show taping has been in the works since January and that “this was the first time that [Dolan’s] schedule permitted him to do it.”

The archbishop is “very excited for the opportunity to talk about the Church, Rome, his years there as a seminarian and rector, the Holy See, the work of the Holy Father, etc.,” Zwilling wrote in an email. “He's very grateful NBC invited him to participate.”