In recent weeks, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times’ has been taking pot shots at Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who drew her ire by opposing the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in New York. Here’s just one example.

But the surprise passage of the bill last week appears to have softened Dowd’s predictably shrill tone. In her June 29 column, she joyfully embraced her kind of religious leader: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Catholic-college graduate who — like Dowd — firmly rejects key moral precepts of his cradle faith.

After last week’s big political victory, Dowd’s column looks like a victory lap for two true believers who witnessed the fulfillment of their vision of a better world.

For the rest of us, the column provides an opportunity to examine the undisciplined and incoherent cafeteria-Catholicism that gained traction during their youth.

Unintentionally, Dowd’s column serves up caricatures of sadly typical Catholic-school products who never learned to ponder and embrace the inconvenient truths of their faith.

Cuomo, no doubt, did learn something at the knee of his father: Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, who famously challenged his Church’s opposition to surgical and chemical abortion during a speech at the University of Notre Dame. In this column, the son affirms his father’s ethos: Catholics demonstrate their integrity by keeping Church discipline and moral precepts at arm’s length.

Dowd opens her interview with a pitch-perfect question, “So, Governor,” I asked, “are you afraid you’re going to hell?”

“There are forms of hell, Maureen,” he answered. “The question is: which level?”

The newly crowned savior of same-sex “marriage,” Dowd reminds us, is an Italian-American who graduated from “Immaculate Conception School, Jamaica Estates in 1971 and Archbishop Molloy High School in 1975. He graduated from Fordham University in 1979.”

The column segues into a confessional mode, as the governor allows a glimpse of a conflicted conscience: “It’s troubling for me as a Catholic to be at odds with the Church.” Then he adds, “Having said that, it seems that my entire political life, the tension with the Church has come up again and again.”

There’s a solution to that “troubling” sense of unease, of course: Even a powerful New York governor can ‘render unto God what is God’s.’” But the one-way confession provides no openings for salutary truths. And when Cuomo reveals the reasoning behind his support for same-sex “marriage,” the tangled logic slips by these two smarty-pants:

“My father was against the death penalty, and that was hard in the Son of Sam summer when fear was driving the desire for the death penalty. You can see a line of continuity from the death penalty to choice to marriage equality. You could argue there’s a 30-year span of the pressing social, moral and legal issues of the day.”

Cuomo then reveals that he has a portrait of St. Thomas More in his office. It’s the same portrait Mario Cuomo once kept in his office while serving as governor of New York. Andrew “has kept it with him for 30 years as he moved from job to job and city to city.”

“It’s not the first time there is a tension between the teachings of the Church and the administration of the law, for my father and for myself,” he tells Dowd. “I haven’t lost my head yet.”

So why would Andrew Cuomo identify with St. Thomas More, the English martyr who wore hair shirts and choose the eternal King over the temporal king?

Most likely, his curious response reflects a savvy personal judgment that his open defiance of Church authority incurred no loss of political capital or moral credibility, i.e. he hasn’t “lost my head yet.” 

Last week, this critical insight was passed on to the GOP legislators, who initially refused to approve the same-sex “marriage” bill, but were finally swayed by Cuomo’s promise of political cover. A denial of Communion might prompt a reassessment of this calculation, but the bishops of New York have signaled their discomfort with this approach.

For now, Cuomo sets his own course. He “still goes to church with his three teenage daughters. He received Communion at his inaugural day Mass, but he mostly abstains. He has managed to stay on good terms with New York’s pugnacious archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who waged a relatively muted battle against same-sex “marriage” that Cuomo calls “reasonable.”

Dowd asks Cuomo if Archbishop Dolan would go the extra mile and preside, one day, at his second marriage to “Food Network glamour girl Sandra Lee.” But Cuomo says it couldn’t happen “because I’m divorced.”

The acknowledgement of the limits of his political influence, however, is quickly set aside as the two take shots at Edward Peters, the prominent canon lawyer who recently asserted that Cuomo should not receive Communion “while living in ‘public concubinage’ with his girlfriend in their Westchester home.”

With a nod toward journalistic balance, Dowd then points out that the latest savior of same-sex “marriage” may harbor some ulterior motives: “Just as his father seized a social issue and established himself in opposition to the Church with his Notre Dame speech on abortion, now the son has seized a social issue and established himself in opposition to the Church with gay marriage.”

The notion that political calculation fueled Cuomo’s campaign for same-sex “marriage” brings the reader back to St. Thomas More and the matter of real political and moral courage. While the Democratic base, who will one day nominate an heir to President Barack Obama, care deeply about “marriage equality,” Cuomo has nothing to lose but his soul when he turns against the leaders of his Church and advocates legislation that will redefine marriage and threaten the religious freedom of his fellow Catholics.

Indeed, Democratic elites turn to self-described “Catholics” like Cuomo to shield their agenda from being labeled “anti-Catholic” or hostile to cherished moral and social values. Mario Cuomo was among the first to travel this well-worn path, publicly defying his Church. Since then, the spectacle of Catholics “courageously” defending legal abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex “marriage” has become commonplace. 

It’s good to know that a portrait of St. Thomas More, who Blessed John Paul II declared patron of statesmen and politicians, is close at hand for the governor. But there’s no direct evidence that Andrew Cuomo has grappled with the nature of this saint.

As one contemporary of Thomas More remarked upon his execution: “His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind.”

Andrew Cuomo is “still a master schemer,” Dowd concludes, even as she revels in the newfound political stardom of this Catholic boy from Queens.

“At Sunday’s’ ‘gay pride’ parade in Manhattan, the guy who was once the cold insider blossomed into a cherished hero” — a secular savior who can heal the wounds inflicted by a sinful, misguided world.

Cuomo recalls the elation he experienced during the parade: “A father, maybe 60 years old, came up to me and said, ‘You know, I have a gay son, and I never really accepted him. And I shouldn’t have needed you to tell me that it was okay to accept my own boy. But I did.’”

As for the payoff, Dowd notes that “Cuomo is now the civil-rights leader among elected officials, a role President Obama should have proudly held. Cuomo, who now has a huge and excited base of millions of volunteers, activists and donors across the country, can press a button and raise millions.”

Almost every media story on the same-sex “marriage” victory in New York was graced with a picture of a radiant Cuomo, leading the “gay pride” march. 

Among the faithful, however, the bill’s passage — capping weeks of gloomy data on the sharp decline of sacramental marriage in the U.S. — serves as a wake-up call.

Everything is on the table if marriage is legally redefined and sacramental marriage doesn’t matter. Dowd didn’t intend it, but her column provides all the evidence we need to make critical changes in the transmission of faith and compelling teaching about true political and religious courage in today’s American landscape.

Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.