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updated: 3/1/2012 9:23 PM

Wheaton professor, church leader charged with child porn

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  • Donald Ratcliff

      Donald Ratcliff

 

A Wheaton College professor and local church leader whose academic research has focused on children was arrested Thursday after a months-long child pornography investigation, authorities said.

Donald Ratcliff, 60, of 1N54 Falcon Trail, Carol Stream, was charged with two counts of aggravated child pornography.

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Ratcliff is a professor of Christian education at Wheaton College, where he has been a faculty member since 2006. He also is a "lay leader" at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Wheaton.

Carol Stream Police Cmdr. Ken George said detectives opened an undercover investigation two or three months ago after they observed Ratcliff's computer trading child pornography online. The probe culminated Wednesday morning, when police executed a search warrant at Ratcliff's home and seized computers, discs and hard drives.

George said police found several items of child pornography on the equipment, which included "computers that didn't belong to him."

"We're still going through all of it," George said, declining to elaborate.

A spokeswoman for Wheaton College had no immediate comment on the allegations Thursday but said Ratcliff is in the process of being placed on administrative leave. Rev. Kurt Gamlin of Aldersgate also declined to comment, but asked that church members pray.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement, "The allegations against Mr. Ratcliff are very disheartening. Child pornography is not a victimless crime. The sad truth is that thousands of images depicting child pornography are distributed over the Internet each day. Each one of these photos is a victim of child pornography."

Ratcliff, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, has a doctorate of educational psychology and has been widely published, according to the Wheaton College website.

"Most of my research has involved children either in school or church contexts. I am particularly interested in family nurture of children's spiritual experiences and development," his biography states.

Ratcliff, who is married with three children, became a pastor at age 19, according to his biography, and also has served as a missionary teacher in the West Indies and as Christian education director at an American Baptist church in Ohio. In addition, he taught psychology and sociology at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia for 19 years, and is a videographer and ham radio enthusiast, his biography states.

On his personal website, Ratcliff writes on the subject of children and spirituality: "I appreciate children in all of their richness and complexity. They can be baffling, frustrating, delightful, and overwhelming. While I have studied child development in depth ... I am particularly interested in the spirituality of children."

Ratcliff is scheduled to appear in bond court Friday. If convicted of aggravated child pornography, he could face up to seven years in prison.

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