A former Christian education professor at Wheaton College faces up to seven years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to aggravated child pornography.
Donald Ratcliff, 62, was charged in March 2012 after Carol Stream police found more than 500 images of child pornography on his home computer, authorities said. His arrest was the result of an online undercover investigation into child pornography downloading.
Ratcliff was fired from his job and divorced by his wife shortly after his arrest. Since 2006, he had been a professor of Christian education at the college.
Ratcliff also had written 10 books on children's spirituality -- the focus of his academic research at the time -- and was a lay leader at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Wheaton.
During the child pornography investigation, he admitted downloading illegal files on numerous occasions. Ratcliff told police he would often download child pornography, delete it and then download it again, Assistant State's Attorney Louisa Nuckolls said.
"It was a cycle," she said, adding Ratcliff told police he had sought counseling.
Ratcliff was scheduled to stand trial Monday but instead pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated child pornography. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dismissed six additional counts carrying a maximum prison term of 49 years because of consecutive sentencing laws for some child pornography offenses.
Ratcliff now faces anywhere from probation to three to seven years in prison when he's sentenced in October by DuPage County Judge John Kinsella, who accepted his plea. Ratcliff's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.