Apart from Protestants and Catholics, many skeptics may be tempted to take both scandals as proof that Christianity is a fraud. But to the contrary, as horrific as these stories are, they both bring the truth of Jesus’ teaching into living color: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7)
This is one of the most fundamental truths in Christianity--title, position, heritage, and even religious activity mean nothing apart from character, and character is revealed by actions. The ones who build their houses on the rock are the ones who hear his words “and put them into practice.” (Matt. 7) The son who “did what the father wanted” is the one who actually did what the father wanted, not the one who said he would do it. (Matt. 21). It is in response to Zaccheaus’ actions--giving half his possessions to the poor and compensating fourfold anyone he cheated--that Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19). There's also a shockingly clear delineation given in the first letter of John: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” (1 John 3)
Of course, this doesn't mean Christians are perfect. It means that real Christians sin unintentionally not deliberately. (It's hard to sexually harass women and molest children unintentionally). And, of course, Christians should never delude themselves into taking credit for their good behavior. If we're ever tempted to do so, we should remember a story G.K. Chesterton cites about a little boy in a windy forest. The trees are flexing and swaying and the boy asks his mother if someone could cut them down so the wind will stop. The power that moves them comes not from them but through them. Such is the case with Christians. But the key point here is that if it really is the power of Christ that moves a person, then he or she will always be moved in certain ways and not in others.
Wind makes trees move. It doesn't make them wet. If a tree is wet, the thing that's affecting it is not wind. That thing is called something else. Likewise, regardless the title someone is known by or the prestige of his institution, if he is deliberately, repeatedly abusing other people, he is not being affected by Christ. The power that's moving him goes by another name.
Being a Christian is an existential reality. If a particular trajectory of behavior doesn't follow one's Christian conversion, then that person hasn't been converted to Christ. This is why the "No True Scotsman" fallacy (see footnote)* doesn't apply to Christianity. Saying someone who fondles women or molests children is a bad Christian is like saying a woman who gets an abortion is a bad mother. By definition, the act of abortion means to not be a mother. But this is a tough concept for many in our hyper-individualized culture of self creation where everyone is free to "identify" however they like without the trivial hindrance of facts. Even if a woman did have an abortion, if she still identifies as a mother, who are we to correct her?
In church contexts, instead of the assertion, “I identify as…”, the attempt to thwart reality with words comes in the phrase, “I consider myself…” The tragic absurdity in each case is the person’s inability (or unwillingness) to understand the gap between the mental pictures we like to keep of ourselves and the reality of who we actually are. A woman in church once told me, “I’m pro-choice, but I still consider myself a Christian.” I wanted to say, “I can’t swim, and I can only run two miles without throwing up, but I still consider myself a Navy SEAL.”
The reality of our identity is defined by our behavior, and, of course, our motives. It is not affected by what “many will say.” It is not affected by our wishes, our titles, nor by our position in a church hierarchy. Nor does it change according to the fashions of our culture or our emotional inclinations. Someone who can't swim doesn't give Navy SEALs a bad name, because that person is not a Navy SEAL. Likewise, people who sexually abuse women or molest children are not followers of Christ. That’s just reality.
* The No True Scotsman Fallacy is where one argues that an exception to a group or category means that the thing or person doesn't belong in the category, and so no amount of exceptions can disprove the rule. As in, "A Scotsman doesn't do that." "But this Scotsman did do that." "Well then, he's not a true Scotsman."