A burned body was found yesterday morning in a wooded area near a Catholic church in Annandale, and Fairfax County police said they are investigating the death as suspicious.

The body, found on property occupied by St. Michael's Catholic Church, was burned "beyond all recognition," and investigators could not determine the sex of the victim, said police spokesman Bud Walker. The victim was not a child, he said.

"What we know is that this does not appear to be a natural death," said Walker, adding that investigators believe that the body was burned where it was found within 48 hours of its discovery.

A dog walker found the body at 7:26 a.m. on a heavily forested stretch of land in the 3500 block of Ravensworth Road, police said. The 30-acre property, much of which is blanketed with knee-high grass and dense clusters of trees, is a popular spot for dog walkers.

Police said they have no reason to believe that the incident is gang-related or that the victim's death was self-inflicted. The death cannot legally be ruled a homicide until the autopsy, scheduled for today, has been completed.

Several years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington purchased eight of the church's acres for possible development. Diocesan officials said they could not determine whether the body was found on property belonging to the diocese or the parish.

A telephone message left at St. Michael's was not returned. Soren Johnson, spokesman for the diocese, issued a statement saying parishioners and diocesan officials were "shocked and saddened" to learn of the death.

"Church officials are cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation," the statement said. "Our prayers go out to the victim and the victim's family."

Police said they were examining missing-person reports and looking for anyone who might have seen "smoke on the horizon" as the body was burning and could help investigators narrow down a time of death.

"We know so little about this," Walker said.