Brian Lilley, host of Sun News channel’s Byline.

Brian Lilley brings Catholic perspective to news desk

  • June 1, 2011

OTTAWA - It’s rare for an outspoken, socially conservative Catholic to host a prime time news and opinion program on a mainstream media network, and Sun Media’s Brian Lilley is not wasting his moment.

When his 9 p.m. (ET) program Byline launched April 18 on the new Sun News channel, Sun Media’s senior parliamentary reporter waded right into one of the most politically incorrect subjects inside the Ottawa Queensway — abortion.

“I like a good debate, so I jump right in and say, ‘let’s talk about this,’ ” said Lilley in an interview in the conference room of Sun Media’s brand new newsroom and studio in Ottawa.

“It’s assumed that a lot of these issues are settled. The abortion issue is settled and we don’t need to ever discuss it. That is the prevailing view. And then it’s discussed in the dying days of every election campaign as an issue to scare people,” he said, noting none of the major political parties are pro-life.

Lilley said he was attracted to Sun Media’s new television network before it hit the airwaves because he has never been told to hide his viewpoints. So far he has not had any negative reactions or “blowback” from his employers over his choice of topics or his taking unpopular positions.

“I’m not afraid to raise terms like moral, right, wrong, good, bad,” he said. “These are terms that we have to use. If something is evil, we should describe it as evil.”

In other words, Lilley refuses to kowtow to moral relativism.

On a recent program, he had a guest on defending Insite, a controversial program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that allows addicts to inject heroin with clean needles under supervision.

“I put to the guest that it was morally wrong to assist somebody in shooting themselves up,” Lilley said. “I don’t think harm reduction works. The compassionate Christian thing to do is get them treatment and help them off drugs.”

Lilley hopes his program will be an “outpost for views that are ignored elsewhere.”

“When I do talk about politics, the goal is to talk about issues and politics that relates to the wider culture, the way it relates to families,” he said.

Instead of talking about the politics behind committee reports or how each party’s standing is affected in the polls, he wants to talk about how policy might affect the culture.

Byline is not explicitly Catholic, said Lilley.

“That’s not the goal, but I can’t separate myself. I can’t say I’m Catholic at home but not Catholic at work. I am a person, and you get the whole package.”

Born in 1971, Lilley grew up in Hamilton, Ont.

“I grew up Catholic. I never really left. I didn’t have a crisis of faith,” he said, but he admits he did go through a period where he was not actively practising his faith.

In Montreal, where he found his first major market job, he and his wife decided they both wanted to go back to church.

“She wasn’t Catholic so we were church shopping.”

She eventually converted and they have both been active in the Catholic Church ever since.

“She’s in the choir, I’m in the Knights; the kids are getting involved. We’re trying to teach them you can’t just show up you have to help, you have to do something. The Church does a lot for people so you have to give back.”

Lilley came to Ottawa in the spring of 2005 as Ottawa bureau chief for news and talk radio stations CJAD of Montreal and CFRB 1010 in Toronto. He started on Easter Monday. Parliament wasn’t sitting, so his first big story was political reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II.

Even then, Lilley did not keep his Catholic faith under wraps where he broadcast from a corner of the Hot Room in Centre Block, where some members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery have desks. As a bureau chief whose job it was to give analysis, he had more leeway, he said, to discuss issues in ways other journalists may not have.

While it is rare to find practising Christians on the Hill, Lilley said they are not as scarce as he once thought. There are a lot of “I used to be Catholic, but . . .” people there, he said.

“Most of ones that are active and practising tend to be very quiet because maybe they’re pro-life and that’s a controversial position to hold,” he said.

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